Member Reviews

In her newest series, Gigi Pandian creates an enchanting blend of family, magic, murder, and a taste of Indian food. Magician Tempest Raj suffers a career setback and returns home to find her only work maybe for her father’s Secret Staircase Construction company.

Ms. Pandian writes captivating mysteries filled with unusual and colorful characters. Her newest work is an excellent example of her riveting storytelling skill.

Was this review helpful?

Under Lock & Skeleton Key should have been a book that I loved, but unfortunately, it fell a bit flat. It has everything I would typically lap up: delicious descriptions of food, secret rooms and staircases, a curse, and classic murder mystery elements.

After a near-death experience at one of her popular magic shows, which ultimately ended her career, Tempest Raj finds herself living at home with her parents. She knows her father doesn’t need her help at his Secret Staircase Construction company, but her options are limited.

One day when Tempest is on-site with her father, the crew finds a dead body crammed behind a wall. They have no idea how the body came to be there, and they soon realize that the dead body is Tempest’s former body double.

Tempest believes the murderer was after her because of a family curse that dates back several generations. Although the police make a quick arrest, she refuses to believe they have the real culprit. And so, Tempest embarks on her own investigation.

I think I would have enjoyed this novel when I was younger. It’s not clear who is the target audience for this book. Tempest is in her mid-twenties, but the writing style reads on the younger side. I had to double-check how old Tempest was because it felt like I was reading from a much younger protagonist’s pov.

The writing was repetitive as well. It’s not necessary to drill the same points over and over again.

There were parts that I did enjoy. The sections that focused on Tempest’s family dynamics, the scrumptious food descriptions, and when she channelled her inner Hercule Poirot was well-done. There are some mouth-watering vegan-friendly recipes at the end of the book.

Although I didn’t love this novel, I’m sure others will have lots of fun with it. I recommend this to readers that enjoy YA and are looking for a light murder mystery.

Thank you to Minotaur Books for providing a review copy via Netgalley.

https://booksandwheels.com

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to NetGalley, Gigi Pandian, and Minotaur Books for an E- arc of this book in exchange for an honest review! I really enjoyed this cozy, locked room style mystery! Tempest is a magician who heads back home after a scandal with her show. When she gets home, she has to deal with her families "curse". We meet many loveable and eccentric characters throughout the story and we also hear about some delicious sounding food! I'm looking forward to reading more from this author! This one comes out on 3.15.22!

Was this review helpful?

Tempest Raj is a Las Vegas magician who has moved back home to California after an accident in her last show nearly killed her. Her family has their own business, Secret Staircase Construction, that specializes in twisting, maze-like, unique buildings and houses with secret doors, hidden rooms, and other magical contraptions. Soon after Tempest moves back home, they find a dead body in a hidden room on one of their construction sites. Not just any dead body, but the body of Tempest’s look-alike and stage assistant. This coupled with her recent near-death experience makes the family wonder if the stories of an age-old Raj family curse could be real and could be coming for Tempest next.

Cozy mysteries aren’t my usual pick, but this was fun! The descriptions of the wild contraptions and tricky architecture built in the family home and in their construction projects made for a vivid setting. The cast of characters was diverse and skillfully drawn. There was enough in the plot to keep the mystery going up until the end which was tied up just well-enough to complete the book but left room for series follow-ups.

Was this review helpful?

Under Lock and Skeleton Key was a fun mystery book to read! It kept my interest and I found myself continuously trying to figure out who was behind the murder and whether Tempest was really seeing a ghost. I love when a well setup plot twist catches me off guard, so I appreciated that about the book.

I rooted for Tempest at some points, but Ivy was my favorite character. Tempest acted spoiled and selfish for a good amount of the story, but her character development was written well.

One disappointment I had with the book was that I wanted to learn more about Tempest's mom and her death.

*Thank you to Minotaur Books, NetGalley, and Gigi Pandian for the free eBook ARC in exchange for writing an honest review!

Was this review helpful?

Excellent title for a new mystery series, I liked the title UNDER LOCK AND SKELETON KEY and the sub title A Secret Staircase mystery.

The Secret Staircase has a big role in this new mystery novel. I have read other mystery series by Gigi Pandian.

Gigi Pandian introduces us to Tempest Raj, a magician from a family of magicians. Tempest has a Scottish grandparent and another Indian (Not Native American) grandparent. In the UK, the Indian would be called Asian, I think.

Tempest Raj is a great name for the main character and very fitting for her age group. Tempest is working in Las Vegas doing a magic show when it is sabotaged by someone who is insanely jealous of Tempest. Amid the sabotage, which almost killed Tempest, and the pending lawsuits, Tempest decides to move back home to California.

This novel was longer than the usual mysteries, though I enjoyed the book. There were elements of Scooby Doo and Nancy Drew in this story. I liked how Gigi Pandian blends different red herrings and suspects to show a story.

Highly recommended for readers who love locked room type of mysteries.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press - Minotaur Press for the ARC in exchange for a honest review.

Was this review helpful?

I enjoyed this cozy mystery, the first book by Gigi Pandian I've read. I'm eager to check out her other series now.

The underlying magic theme was fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed the secret passages and hidden rooms that made up so much of this story. Unfortunately, sometimes I had a hard time visualizing what the author was describing. Likewise, I got frustrated with some inconsistencies/errors in the text. One example was when the author describes a 2x3 foot oil painting on one page, and then a page or two later, it becomes a watercolor. This type of error is frustrating in a mystery where details matter.

I also thought there were too many references to other classic mystery books. A few are fun, but the number in this book became distracting.

Overall, I liked the characters, and the plot was good - I'm looking forward to the next volume.
And I am definitely making the cardamom shortbread - I love cozies with recipes.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Was this review helpful?

This was a great start to the series – plenty of interesting characters and potential plotlines ripe for future mystery books. The main character, Tempest Raj, has an interesting life and backstory.

I did figure out part of the mystery right away, but there were parts that still surprised me. I knew the ‘who’, but I couldn’t figure out the ‘how’ or the ‘why’. The mystery was complex and fun to read about it when it was spelled out to me in the end.

I would like to see this book made into a movie because I need to see how these secret rooms, staircases work!

There are also delicious sounding dishes prepared by her grandfather. I was pleasantly surprised to find a few of the recipes in the back of the book for readers to try.

Was this review helpful?

I tried countless times to get into this book and I didn't make it far. It was not as grabbing as I would hope for a mystery and I found the characters confusing from the get go. I ended up DNFing this book.

Was this review helpful?

Cassidy might have tanked Tenpest's career but murder? Tempest, a magician who finds herself back home after an onstage debacle, is working with her family's company, a company that builds secret staircases and other interesting modifications to buildings. Cassidy was her stunt double but now she's dead, found inside a wall. Tempest, believing she might have been the actual target, sets out to find answers. It's a unique cozy, filled with interesting details about magicians but even better, descriptions of vegan food. No spoilers from me. Thanks to netgalley for the ARC. A nice start to a new series.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to #netgalley and #stmartinspress for this #arc !

Synopsis: After a disastrous accident derails Tempest Raj’s career, and life, she heads back to her childhood home in California to comfort herself with her grandfather’s Indian home-cooked meals. Though she resists, every day brings her closer to the inevitable: working for her father’s company. Secret Staircase Construction specializes in bringing the magic of childhood to all by transforming clients’ homes with sliding bookcases, intricate locks, backyard treehouses, and hidden reading nooks.

When Tempest visits her dad’s latest renovation project, her former stage double is discovered dead inside a wall that’s supposedly been sealed for more than a century. Fearing she was the intended victim, it’s up to Tempest to solve this seemingly impossible crime. But as she delves further into the mystery, Tempest can’t help but wonder if the Raj family curse that’s plagued her family for generations—something she used to swear didn’t exist—has finally come for her.

My thoughts: I liked the characters, cultural aspects, and the overall plot, but would have enjoyed it more with a little less...magician-y stuff. I think because it's just not an area of interest for me, it felt a little over the top 🤷🏻‍♀️ Kind of an it's-not-you-it's-me situation 😆

Also, it was the perfect excuse to make this disappearing #bookreel so 😆

Was this review helpful?

This was not a book for me. I love a cozy mystery but I’m not a fan of magic and there is a lot in here. Not actual magic as much, as the book being built around it.

To me the book dragged. Not much happened after the murder. It took a long time to reach the conclusion. There were also a lot of characters and I really wasn’t invested in any of them.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

2⭐️

Was this review helpful?

What a thoroughly enjoyable twisty mystery! Chock full of marvellously vivid details from luscious food descriptions to secret staircases and gardens, Under Lock and Skeleton Key (even those are fun!) delivers a lovely cozy locked-room mystery with Gothic and magical elements, complete with a sealed-off dead body, wondrously perplexing with red herrings in every nook and cranny.

Magician Tempest Raj has moved back to her home called Fiddler's Folly in California after a frightening accident. Not only does feisty and whirlwindish Tempest enjoy the gorgeous cooking of her grandparents but finds she had an affinity for amateur sleuthing, especially as her former body double is discovered. Her dad's Secret Staircase Construction Company has the most thrilling name! The family curse adds to the swirling mysterious atmosphere. All this adds up to pure enjoyment enveloped in every word.

Oh, how I love hidden rooms and secrets in books! The Golden Age mystery author references are fantastic and lend a special warmth and mood. The mystery itself is complex and pleasing and the writing is bright and stunning. I cannot wait to see what Gigi Pandian has in store for her readers in future.

Mystery readers, please do not miss this smashing mystery! Get utterly lost in it.

My sincere thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the privilege of reading this enchanting book.

Was this review helpful?

When I saw the cover of this book, I fell in love. When I read the summary, I wanted it and when I was granted my request from NetGalley, I put down everything else to read it.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key follows Tempest Raj, a stage magician who until very recently worked as a headliner in Las Vegas.

She's mixed. So many people in this book are mixed. Indian and Scottish for her, There's a Black man who is a single father who is absolutely sweet and his son is adorable. There's also the Hindi Houdini, her good friend Sanjay.

Honestly some of the best written kids because they reminded me of my younger sibling and their friends when they were around that age.

Tempest's family has suffered under a curse that her grandfather Ash absolutely believes. The eldest child dies by magic. And it seems true with the families history.

Tempest comes from a long line of magicians (and she owns a rabbit named Abra) and it was only natural that she become one as well. Even though her mother lost her older sister Elspeth during a gruesome magic act.

The curse took a bit of a turn after that. Tempest's mom died after that. And she says that it's cheating because her mom was only the oldest since her sister died.

I agreed with her there. I actually highlighted that part in to put in my review because a) yeah that's cheating and b)it's so relatable.

Tempest is actually relatable. You don't need to be a magician to feel for her. She's lost her show in Las Vegas due to her stage double tampering with her show. Tampering with in it a way that almost got her killed.

That's where we come in to Tempest's life, living back in her childhood bedroom in her childhood home that is the number one place I want to live.

Why? Because you get into it by pulled a secret lever and it opens up to a secret staircase that takes you to her room. And the house in general? Well, for one it has a title. It's called Fiddler's Folly. It was built in chunks and each part as it was added and grew was built in with hidden reading rooms, bookshelves that open to new hidden rooms.

Tempest's grandparents actually live in the treehouse portion and it's yet another incredible construction.

Not surprising since her father owns a construction company called Secret Staircase Construction. They build those hidden rooms and many other amazing things for other people. Her mother worked with her father up until her disappearance.

Now this is supposed to be a review, not spoiler city so I have to reign in how much I want to spill on everything.

What we have in this book is an incredible, diverse cast and each person feels real. They're all very fleshed out and none of them, to my relief, were annoying. their relationships and the history they share feels real.

Since it's a mystery I wasn't sure what to expect. A lot of the ones I've tried over the years have been very dark and gritty, more pulp than anything else. But this felt lighter and it is. Yes there's a murder but that doesn't change the fact that this book has characters in it that don't just see doom and gloom everywhere.

There's a lot of sleight of hand, a lot of tricks and things that were fun to picture while reading. And when the book his 78% I was actually gasping and speaking out loud. There were twists and turns then more twists. It was amazing. It was so well written that I had the distinct feeling that I was there with the characters while everything was going on.

There was one thing that bothered me a little. The central mystery of the story is how was X thing done. And I was very excited to have it explained to me. I'm not a magician, tell me your secrets! That...didn't happen. Or if it did, I missed it. I was looking forward to it almost being like that old show. Where this magician in a mask would do a really famous trick and then reveal how it was done.

It was that. I was a little put out by it. I wanted to know! But when the book comes out, I'll buy it and read it again so it's not a big deal. This is also the first in a series and I eagerly look forward to the next installments!

Even though I didn't have the magic trick explained to me, there's so much magic in this book that it earned a five (5) star rating from me. I recommend it if this is your first foray into mysteries or if you're looking for one that isn't super heavy.

Like I said in the beginning, I got this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. A thanks to them and the publisher.

Was this review helpful?

an original clue style mystery with a twist!!

under lock and skeleton key is the first of a new series I cannot wait to read the rest of. I wonder if the characters will remain the same or have a crossover, or whether it’s just the same style of mystery. either way, it’s the new agatha christie!!!

it was a light, quick read as we discover who killed the main character’s body double from her play, the tempest. the trick is … the body is behind a wall that has been sealed for decades.

I could do without the side romantic side plots and interests as I felt it took away from the main story too much, but overall, it was a satisfying read!

thank you to goodreads and minotaur for the advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.

rating: 3.5 stars
wine pairing: napa valley merlot

Was this review helpful?

When her latest magic trick goes terribly wrong and almost kills her, Tempest loses her sponsors, friends and her show. She moves back home to hide from the fallout, helping out at the family business: A construction company that builds clever contraptions into your home. But on a job, a hidden room is revealed and out falls Tempest's former assistant, dead and a dead ringer for Tempest. Is the family curse out to get her? Is Tempest's mother reaching from beyond the grave to help her solve the mystery? And will she be able to find out before she too falls victim? This mystery features a unique hook, quirky characters, and an almost too-twisty murder mystery. But the rusty dialogue, excessive discussion of murder mystery tropes and a story overstuffed with too many characters that need exposition drag down the otherwise engaging series opener. Perhaps author Gigi Pandian will find her footing in the second book, as is often the case with cozy mysteries. Under Lock and Skeleton Key is best handed to fans of stage magic and mysteries, and those who don't mind a meandering plot.

Was this review helpful?

Tempest comes from a family of magicians and creative people.. When her headlining Vegas act is sabotaged by an associate resulting in her injury, she returns home to Hidden Creek to recover. Her father owns Secret case Construction specializing in hidden rooms and arcitectureal features. While helping the crew on a job the body of her assistant is discovered behind a wall. Determined to solve this mystery as well as the disappearance of her mother and who caused her show to deconstruct Tempest goes on the prowl. This cozy mystery is spiced with whimsical details and entertaining characters. The interactions between family and friends is heartwarming and the fusion food of her Scottish grandmother and Indian grandfather is mouthwatering. (Recipes included). I was entertained by the snippets of unique home design and the references to historical magicians and Golden Age detective novelists. Did I mention there was a family curse? And maybe a ghost? This is a first entry in a new series from the author and although not normally a cozy reader I am anticipating the next adventure.

Was this review helpful?

Amazingly inventive storyline. Such a fun story and intriguing backstory with so many unexpected surprises. Very hard to put down...read it in a day. Great mystery!

Was this review helpful?

Perfect for mystery readers who like their mysteries on the cozy side, but without the cliches and stock characters. This book is strikingly imaginative and takes what could be a typical mystery in some fun and creative new directions. I look forward to recommending this title.

Was this review helpful?

With equal parts magic and mystery, Gigi Pandian has created an excellent mash-up in her latest book, Under Lock and Skeleton Key. With illusionist Tempest Raj at the heart of the story, the reader is submerged into a world of magic and mystery. Tempest was one of the most successful illusionist/magicians working in Las Vegas until an assistant sabotaged her show, almost causing her death, and leaving the entire fanbase believing she is reckless and has no concern for the staff she employs. She is required to sell everything she owns in Vegas to pay suits and damages to the event, and has now moved back home to her magical house which was built by her construction oriented father and magical thinking mother.

The house, and all the projects taken on by her family’s construction company include a level of magical openings, secret keys, and hidden rooms. As a company they were famous for these creations, utilizing Tempest’s mother’s talent for creating magical events based on stories related to the owners. The description of some of these creations are bound to make the reader want to rush out and hire the company to either build or remodel something they own with their own version of books that open secret panels,gargoyles that contain the key to opening doors, hidden staircases, etc. It would be like living in your own personal magical funhouse where the magic has been created just for you.

The construction company is struggling and has been since the death of Tempest’s mother five years before. When Tempest’s mother disappeared, it fueled the tales of a family curse that meant the firstborn child of every generation was doomed to die. This curse, or belief in it, carries through to Tempest who is being terrorized by seeing her mother’s “ghost” playing a unique tune on her violin, experiencing other unexplained phenomenon, and constantly watching over her shoulder for the next threat to her life.

Pandian has then placed a murder right in the middle of this magical world. On a tour of a house currently under remodel by the company, a body suddenly appears as if bursting through the walls of a secret room. An initial investigation reveals the dead body is the assistant who set Tempest up and created the original stage disaster. Tempest and her family immediately conclude the attack was meant for Tempest. As a result, Tempest decides she must solve the mystery of who killed her assistant and how they got her body in a hidden room.

As she investigates the murder, Tempest also examines her life as a performer, the ways in which she has pushed away her friends and others who care about her, and whether or not she can repair the damage. While she is trying to solve these issues, the bracelet she was given by her mother and wears constantly is stolen, replaced by a plastic one she had made for her assistant to wear when she was working as Tempest’s double during illusions. Are there special meanings embedded in the bracelet? These are compounded when Tempest examines the replica and learns the charms that make up the bracelet snap together to create a key, but to what?

The reader can pick and choose which questions they want to try and solve, if any. Some may want to solve the entire book, some just one or two issues, and some may simply sit back and relax, just to enjoy the well written and different book created by Pandian. The characters are all distinct, many are people the readers may wish they could meet in person, and the magical houses are places almost anyone would hope to have at least a part of as their own magical dwelling place.

Pandian has created a unique book with a classic theme of murder mystery, and it is a joy to read. Regardless of whether the reader is brought to it for the mystery or the magic, I think they’ll stay for the pure enjoyment of reading an excellently crafted book with interesting characters, unique places, and lots of ideas that trigger the imagination.

I thank St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Book and Netgalley for providing an advanced reader’s copy for review. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own.

Was this review helpful?