Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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Member Reviews

I thought this started out well enough, a magician in a cozy mystery, cool! But it started getting repetitive fairly quickly (maybe the editor will see it and redact some of that stuff) and convoluted. This book was a bit messy! And some parts were extremely unbelievable and just didn't make sense. I loved the idea of all these hidden rooms and such in a house, made me think of the Winchester House in CA (! But I won't be continuing the series. I may try one of Pandian's other series though, just to see if it's her or just this series.
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A very enjoyable read. 

The first in a series, we follow Tempest as she has returned to her family home, after her Magic show in Las Vegas was cancelled because of  an accident. While Tempest is enjoying the time spent with her grandparents, she is trying to decide what her future will bring. 

He father runs the Secret staircase construction company - specializing in creating secret rooms, hidden staircases etc for their clients. When a dead body is found inside the wall at one of their construction sites, Tempest realizes she knows the deceased - and she cannot have been inside the wall for more than a short while. What follows is Tempest and her friends trying to solve a 'locked room' mystery while they are concerned that a family curse is pointing towards Tempest being the intended victim, 

This was a quick and easy read, with some delightful characters. Tempest's Grandfather is Indian, and loves to cook and her Grandmother is Scottish, providing foods that are a mashup of both cultures. Some of the recipes are included at the end of the book.  

I found the writing rather simplistic, and wondered for a while if this was a YA book. However, I think the style fit the plot - as it was all about the art of magic, secrets, misdirection and the suspense of belief. 

I found the book delightful. It reminded me of a favorite British TV series from the 1990's - Jonathan Creek - in which a magician used his skill in magic tricks to solve murders. I will be looking to read the rest of the books in the series.
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Such a fun mystery full of masterful illusions, innovative architecture, and food! Tempest comes from a family of magicians/illusionists and has always heard there is a curse on her family that the eledest child dies from magic - and this has been true for five generations. Tempest doesn't know if she believes in the curse or not. Tempest was a headline performer in Vegas until an onstage incident that she was blamed for, caused her to se everything and go home to Hidden Creek to stay with her family. Trouble follwowed her - a body of a co-performer was found in a wall in an old house Tempest's father's company was remodeling. Other things were happening around Tempest that were very odd. She and her friends start inveslotigating to find out what is happending and who is behind it.

There are great characters in this book and I really enjoyed them. I also liked the plot and found the architecture of the hidden rooms and puzzling locks fascinating. Tempest's grandfather's cooking and love of food is peppered through the book. The mystery had enough complexity to keep my attention.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press through Netgalley for an advance copy. This book will be published on March 15, 2022.
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This mystery is a departure from my typical reads, but in a fun way! Tempest is an intriguing main character. I enjoyed the setting very much, from her multicultural family to the descriptions of the hidden features and secret rooms throughout the family's home. 

I did feel like the book had a little too much superfluous information, particularly in the beginning, which caused a bit of a slow start. It was also a little hard to pinpoint the audience or subgenre for this one... it's definitely a cozy mystery but also YA? NA? It's an enjoyable story nonetheless. 

Thanks to Net Galley and Minotaur for the complimentary digital review copy of this title.
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There are so many things to love about this book! This fun cozy mystery brings a disgraced stage magician back to her family and their secret staircase construction company, adding in a locked room mystery, fantastic architecture, and lots and lots of magic. I couldn't wait to find out the solution to the mystery, and now I can't wait to find out what comes next. Tempest's wonderful multicultural family and all of their veg/vegan food was a great bonus, and I'm looking forward to getting to know them all better. Thanks to Netgalley and Minotaur Books for the advance digital copy!
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I immediately got hooked with this one. Tempest Raj is 26 years old and has recently returned home to Hidden Creek, California, after an accident during a magic performance in Las Vegas almost killed her and did kill her career. Her childhood home, Fiddler's Folly, is full of hidden passages and secret staircases and her grandparents live in a treehouse in the backyard. Her father runs the Secret Staircase Construction company "to bring magic to people through their homes." He began the company with Tempest's mother who was also a magician ... until she disappeared on stage five years ago. The disappearance wasn't part of the act, but was thought by many to be linked to a family curse going back five generations. 

Shortly after Tempest returns home she is convinced to help with the family business -- currently doing renovations to a 110 year old mansion. The blueprints don't seem to match up what they're physically seeing, and they soon discover a body in a wall that apparently hadn't been touched in the 110 year history of the house. It literally falls out of the wall onto Tempest and wasn't a 110 year old body, at all -- it was Tempest's stunt double from Las Vegas. Her doppelganger. The one Tempest believed caused the career-ending accident.

There are so many questions facing Tempest, her friends, and her family (and the police, of course, even though they make an arrest very early on):
Who put Cassidy in the wall and how? 
Was it meant to be Tempest? 
Is it all related to the supposed curse? 
And is her mother really haunting her?

Like I said, I got hooked early. I have always wanted a secret room or hidden staircase which, of course, would lead to a nook where I could read my beloved mysteries and watch old classic movies and just hide from the world in general. Tempest and her best friend, Ivy, are also mystery buffs so there's plenty of name dropping that made me smile. Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock and so many more. They plan to use their knowledge of mysteries -- both fictional and non (Ivy's sister is a true-crime writer), Tempest's knowledge of magic (along with her grandfather's though he hasn't performed in decades and hot hot hottie fellow magician Sanjay), and the combined knowledge of secret construction from her father and his crew (experts in "architectural misdirection") to figure out what really happened, how, and why.

I have had Gigi Pandian books on my TBR for years now. I am ridiculously glad that St Martin's agreed to let me have an advanced copy via NetGalley ... and I'm just as glad that I have so many other Pandian books available while I wait for the next Secret Staircase Mystery. Between the compelling mystery that kept me guessing the entire time, the rich details of the settings I will dream about for ages, and the mouth-watering food cooked up by Grandpa Ash, I'm definitely a fan.
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An enjoyable read with a likable protagonist and characters you can root for. 

Tempest Raj (cool name) is a stage magician who has returned home after being accused of a careless and risky magic accident, where she was ‘apparently’ witnessed preparing for the unsafe stunt. She firmly believes her former stage double, Cassidy, was responsible for the accident. 

But when Cassidy is found dead inside a wall of a building being constructed by Tempest’s parents’ company, called the Secret Staircase Construction business, she and her best friend Ivy, have to solve the murder before someone kills Tempest, or accuses her of it. 

This was a fun read, with diverse and quirky characters. Tempest’s grandparents, Grandpa Ash is of Indian ancestry, and Grandma Mor of Scottish, together with their brilliant fusion recipes, and Tempest’s rabbit, Abracadabra, they add a lot of fun in what is an intriguing mystery. 

I’d certainly recommend this for cozy readers who like mysteries with a healthy dose of magic thrown in. I hope Gigi Pandian follows this up with more of this group of interesting characters. 

Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin's Press/Minotaur Books for the ARC.
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While I loved the idea of The Secret Staircase Construction Company, overall this book was not for me which I know puts me in the minority of readers. The writing felt clunky, the characters one-dimensional and I felt things jumped all over the place all and so I was never able to fully engage in the story
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Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a unique and adorable book with a quirky cast of characters and oodles of hidden rooms. While the start was a little slow, I enjoyed getting to know all of Tempest's quirky friends and family, and reading about all the different secret rooms her parents created in their home. To name a few, we meet Tempest's grandfather who is always cooking for everyone from his treehouse, her artist grandma, fellow magician Sanjay, observant stone-carver Gideon, and her friend Ivy who is (helpfully when a body is found) obsessed with locked-room mysteries.
All these elements of mystery, architecture, cooking, magic, and history really kept me entertained and I can't wait for the next installment.
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this book was so good!!! also an arc so as usual, no spoilers at all!! the characters in the books are so real and loveable, and the mystery is slow-moving which is super interesting. it's also an ode to classic mystery books which, of course, i love and it's incredible how it acknowledges the moden challenge between whodunnit and whydunnit. tempest's whole family is so fun to read about and she's a character you want to root for beginning to end. shoutout to the whole mystery squad (especially ivy, sanjay, and gideon) for keeping everything so magical and funny even when tensions were high. so so so well done!
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A unique mystery, to be sure!  Tempest Raj in an interesting protagonist:  a young magician/illusionist until during her show in Las Vegas, an illusion went wrong and nearly killed her.  She and her pet 15-pound rabbit Abracadabra have retreated to her family’s home (really a tree house, of sorts), and she has agreed to help her father with his company, Secret Staircase Construction, which specializes in building hidden rooms.  When a body is found at her father’s construction site, the mystery truly begins.

Although I enjoyed this read, my quibbles are that the novel contained too many repetitious portions and needed to have a tighter narrative.  That said, I can see this becoming a movie that I believe would be especially popular with a young audience.
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By: Gigi Pandian
Review By: Librarian

Under Lock and Skeleton Key is a whimsical mystery set with exotic characters peopling the professional magician's world. Tempeste Raj is home again, out of work, and looking for a job while trying to discover who sabotaged her career and nearly got her killed. Her family home built into the side of a mountain is a warren of secret rooms and magical staircases. The discovery of a body in one of the mansion's walls brings suspicion on Tempeste. She will stop at nothing to find the killer even if she must use her famous disappearing act. The book features great food, baffling red herrings, and finally comes to a satisfying end when everything is solved. An enjoyable romp.
Thank you #NetGalley and Publisher for the opportunity to read the book in exchange for my honest opinion.
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This was a difficult book for me to finish. The setup was certainly enticing, but for me, the writing style and characterizations were just too clunky. The introduction of many new (and superfluous) characters and jarring flashbacks made it difficult to follow or sink in to. Definitely suffers for telling instead of showing. I really wanted to like this one, but it would not be something I could confidently recommend to readers.
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3.5/5 stars

Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free ARC copy in exchange for an honest review. 
Under Lock and Skeleton Key is a locked-room mystery with an impossible crime, where plot twists and misdirection will keep you guessing until the last page. Mysteries aren’t my most-read genre, but I’ve been picking up more and more of them recently. In this book, misdirection is a major theme in the plot and is used many times throughout the story. I will definitely need to reread this book to see what I missed the first time through, and I think it will stand up well for rereading multiple times. 
Three things really stood out to me in this novel: the seamless blending of cultures in Tempest’s family, the magical sense of place, and the number of twists. Tempest’s family is a blend of American, Scottish, and Indian and food plays a major role in their family. I loved reading about their family dynamics and the mouthwatering dishes they make throughout the story. Tempest’s father also owns Secret Staircase Construction, which specializes in secret magical spaces, and their family home is designed with every puzzle and secret room we’ve all ever dreamed of. Their home, Fiddler’s Folly, is such a cool, magical, and mysterious place that I hope gets even more chances to shine in future books. 
I made my guess for the murderer fairly early on but was unprepared for the amount of twists throughout the story, which left me second-guessing my choice throughout almost the entire book. Every time I thought there couldn’t possibly be anything else, another twist would sweep onto the page. Most of the twists were delightful, but a few I didn’t enjoy. The clues I noticed were fun to work out and mull over as the story progressed. 
However, I wish the pacing was faster throughout the story: I was 56% through the book before I really felt engaged with plot and couldn’t wait to find out what happened next. I think this was partly because there was so much information introduced in the first part of the book, and every time a new place or character was introduced we also were introduced to Tempest’s full backstory with said place/character. At the start, this was just too much information to keep straight, but once the introductions were complete and we were through part one, things did pick up. 
I think I will appreciate Under Lock and Skeleton Key more after a reread, but it will probably be most accessible to fans of mystery who’ve read widely in the genre. Thank you again to NetGalley and Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press for the opportunity of reviewing an ARC.
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Sent to me by Netgalley for review…mystery and ,Ashe,…intrigue…career…family…old crimes…haunted house? Who did it? Questions the main character might answer if…this is a quick read…
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I'm having a hard time naming what my critique of this book is, because I quite liked the characters and the "set pieces" of the solution. I also appreciated that this was a cozy that didn't feel overly twee. I guess my main issue is that the connective tissue between key moments in the book felt sort of rushed or phoned in? Like the book was just in a hurry to get to the next cool moment. Those moments were definitely cool, so I still enjoyed this, but it would been better for me if it had had a few less cool moments and more room to breathe
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This was an interesting take on a murder mystery. The protagonist was unique and I absolutely love the creativity and intrigue of the houses and illusions. There was A LOT of subplots of this book and I did find myself going back and double checking previous chapters or pages to ensure I had things straight.

Overall, it was not the traditional type of mystery/crime novel I read... so it did not really check off the boxes that I would categorize for a 'great read'. That is my only personal preferences and I think readers who prefer this style of book will absolutely love it.
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Thank you to Minotaur Books and Netgalley for an advanced copy.

If you're a fan of cozy mysteries and/or Agatha Christie, Under Lock and Skeleton Key will be right up your alley.

After almost dying from a magic act gone wrong, Tempest Raj returns to California and her family home, to salvage what she can on her magic career.  She joins her father and the crew of his company, Secret Staircase Construction, at the home of their latest job where a body is found when they're trying to decipher blueprints of the house.  The decedent has a link to Tempest and the life she left behind in Vegas.  With the help of her friends and family, she will solve the mystery of the victim's death, help to salvage not only her career, and learn more about her long dead mother and the inheritance she left Tempest.

There is so much to love about this mystery.  First the architecture in this mystery is the cat's pajamas.  Can the Secret Staircase Construction be a real company and make something in my house?  Also Raj's family lives in a tree house?! How cool is that?!  Tempest and the secondary characters are so sweet and I can't wait to see more from them in future novels.  The pacing in this novel felt a little uneven at times.  I gave the author leeway because I know she was developing characters and background foundation for future novels.  There is no way there aren't future novels with the way the novel unwinds.

Under Lock and Skeleton Key is available March 22, 2022.
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I received this book in exchange for an honest review, which has not altered my opinion of this book.

Magic is such a visual element, I was a little concerned about it being put into a book, but I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and drawn in by the many different elements of this book. In fact, the food sounded absolutely delicious, the construction was fascinating, and the mystery was captivating. The characters were for sure unique, and I have never read a book with a main character who is half Scottish and half Indian, and with such a focus on her culture and incorporating everything into the story.

However, I found myself overwhelmed at points by the shear number of things going on in this story. Keeping them all straight and remembering the layout of the house was a bit clunky, and I'm not sure if that was me or the writing itself. The writing was a bit loose and I felt like I got distracted by so many things at once that it just didn't quite work for me. That being said, I did enjoy the story and did not predict the ending (which is something I truly value in a mystery) and I would be willing to read something else by her.

Overall, this book got a 3 out of 5 and I would recommend this for fans for cozy mysteries with an added bit of shock value to it.
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I've been a fan of Gigi Pandian for years, and her latest novel does not disappoint! I really enjoy Golden Age locked room mysteries and "impossible crimes," and I thought Pandian did an excellent job of balancing what I love about those books with the charm and fun of a new (to me) world and setting. Already looking forward to the next one!
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