Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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Member Reviews

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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3.5 rounded up
Thank you to Minotaur Books and Netgalley for this ARC of Under Lock & Skeleton Key, the first in the new Secret Staircase Mystery Series, by Gigi Pandian. A disgraced magician. A generational curse. And a dead body tumbling out of a hideaway wall. Welcome to Tempest Raj’s life as she slowly begins to realize that not only is someone trying to end her career, but potentially her life. I have many mixed thoughts about this book with the first being that I absolutely loved the amount of diversity and inclusion that was highlighted throughout the novel. I additionally loved how it was a cozy gothic mystery, so even though there was the element of murder the main focus was centered around traditional magic and riddles. The drawbacks that I had for this book however were that there were almost too many characters thrown in to the point that I was continually getting lost on who we were focusing on and whether or not they were integral to the story. Additionally, I was looking forward to the ultimate who-dun-it, but when it came to the actual reveal I almost didn’t care? I definitely do think that I will be reading the next book in the series but I don’t think it will be a top priority read for me when it comes out.
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Thank you Netgalley and St. Martin's Press, Minotaur Books for the copy of this book. Do you love magic and mysteries? If so, this book is for you. The characters are fun and quirky and I don’t usually pay attention to locations, but the locations in this book added so much to the story and atmosphere I couldn’t ignore them! I wish Secret Staircase Construction really existed because it is a brilliant idea. The story bogged down a couple of times for me, but I was glad I kept reading until the satisfying end. And as a bonus there were recipes at the end. For a fun read, pick up this book!
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This clever cozy mystery is a breath of fresh air in the genre. With lots of references to Golden Age mysteries and classics, as well as glimpses of the magic Tempest is famous for, this read weaves both an excellent mystery and an entertaining story. As is typical in a cozy, this introduces us to Tempest's community, and between her magician friends, the creatives working with her father's construction crew, and her family, there is a wealth of excellent characters in this one, and there are a lot of potential storylines that I'd love to see explored in future books in this series.
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"Under Lock and Skeleton Key" was such a ridiculously fun book. Magic, murder, mysteries and food - oh my goodness, this was an amazing and engaging read. Gigi Pandian did such an incredible job with her descriptions of rooms, scents, and spaces that I truly felt I was there. I agree with other reviewers that I would gladly join the Raj family for all of the secret staircases and cardamom shortbread! 
P.S. The shortbread recipe Made. My. Day. Throughout the book, I keep thinking I needed to google it, and was absolutely thrilled that it was included!
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This was such a fun read! I love locked room murders so much and Under Lock & Skeleton Key will forever be one of my favorites. I bet you can't guess how they did it.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for this ARC which I received in return for an honest review.
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When Tempest, a Vegas stage magician, loses her contract after a trick gone wrong, she finds herself back home. While helping her father out with his business, a construction company specializing in hidden rooms and trick locks, she stumbles upon a locked-room mystery.

I wanted to love this a lot more than I actually did. It turns out that magic doesn't translate well to the written word. Seeing a magic trick performed in-person is fascinating. Reading about it in multiple page-long descriptions is confusing and quite boring. 

The mystery was still fun to follow and I quite liked Tempest and her family. The story is a bit farfetched, but it's not a deal breaker.
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Can a stage magician solve a real puzzle? 
I confess I have never read a book whose protagonist is a woman with an Indian father and a Scottish mother. Add to that her profession as a stage magician, and how could I resist?
The cleverness in the setup of this series is carried out in many details. There are  descriptions of  projects that Secret Staircase Construction has built, like wood slats in the floor in the shape of a skeleton key and the fake copy of Invisible Man that opens a bookcase to reveal a hidden room when you tug on it. 
Tempest is an enjoyable protagonist, a credible character despite her unusual background, and the mixed ethnicities give rise to some very interesting culinary combinations, some of whose recipes are provided in the book. The full cast of quirky characters, including three generations of Tempest’s family and  Tempest’s former BFF Ivy, who is a welder working for Secret Staircase Construction, all have rather eccentric backgrounds. Tempest even has a pet rabbit named Abracadabra.
All of this makes Under Lock and Skeleton Key  a good candidate if you are in the mood for a whimsical read for the beach or a cold winter’s day.  
Another aspect mentioned in the book description is the tribute to classic locked room mysteries, and this is where some readers may find themselves disappointed. Fans of such mysteries often tend to favor rather cerebral plots and puzzles they can work out themselves, and this is certainly not that kind of mystery. There is some good mention of classic mysteries like the Dr. Fell series that will probably motivate many readers to go look for some old favorites. Ivy presents a nice comparison of locked room mysteries compared to closed circle mysteries, and her analysis of puzzle plots versus psychological mysteries is right on target.  However, readers who are looking for a puzzle mystery may be disappointed. In addition, there were a few too many implausible features to the plot to satisfy this type of reader.
The unconventional background and characters ARE fun, but Pandian perhaps overdoes them a bit. There are, for example, a few too many mentions of Tempest’s red shoes and Ivy’s puffy pink vest.  And the many hidden nooks and egresses designed by  Secret Staircase Construction are admirable, but it is impossible to imagine one house with so many of them!
Some of the writing is a bit rough, like use of the word, “illicit” rather than “elicit”, but the published version may have corrected many of these problems.
If you are definitely in the mood for some escape fiction and can suspend your critical thinking in a big way, Under Lock and Skeleton Key may be just your cup of cardamom tea.  Just don’t expect Hercule Poirot.
I received an advance review copy of this book from Netgalley and the publisher.
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I've read a plethora of books that are 'magical', but Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian blows them all out of the water! What an absolute treasure of a book this is! Thank you to #NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to read the ARC ahead of time.
With this book, Pandian weaves a fascinating tale that pulls you in and never lets up. It is an extremely imaginative page-turner, and the fascinating glimpses into the world of magical performances is unique in the cozy mystery world. Also extremely compelling are the insights into the different cultures represented by the main characters, including the detailed references to the  new-to-me foods that often combine cooking methods that combine different ethnic cuisine.
What drew me to this book in the first place was the mention of hidden staircases and nooks - what reader hasn't dreamt of having her own hidden reading nook behind a bookcase? This book takes that concept and runs with it, creating amazingly complex and, dare I say it at a risk of being repetitive, magical hidden entries with fantastic details. Those are worth the read on their own. And the idea that a company such as Secret Staircase Construction could exist is the type of thing that dreams are made of. 
But the mystery! It is complex and detailed, with a unique closed-room type puzzle that challenges not only the characters but the readers as well. The analysis of the types of solutions possible presented by Tempest's best friend is enlightening and intriguing, adding to the overall puzzle. Add to that mystery the underlying concept of a family curse and the mystery of what happened to Tempest's mother, and the book is definitely difficult to put down.
The book is well written, descriptive, and fun to read. The recipes included at the end are a nice touch and will surely be appreciated. I look forward to reading more of this series!
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I think the real title of this book should be “misdirection”. That expression (the basis of all magic tricks) was used  frequently and carried out with such skill in the mystical storyline of the book.
   Tempest comes from a long line of magicians and storytellers and had developed a very lucrative career in Las Vegas until the “accident”.  Then, all was shattered: she lost her home, her savings, her reputation and returned to her home town a wounded soul.
   Her good fortune was to have a family that embraced her, long time friends to reunite with and a family business, appropriately named The Secret Staircase,  that she easily melded back into. That is until a body fell out of a wall in a home that the business was renovating….and this body was the girl who caused the accident that ruined her career.
   This book is world of wonderful characters, insights into the world of magic, food descriptions that will leave you drooling and a mystery that doesn’t reveal itself until the final chapters.
   Make sure you don’t miss the recipes at the end!
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I found Gigi Pandian’s books through another favorite author - Juliet Blackwell - and was thrilled to find a new series featuring two of my favorite things: magicians and hidden staircases/rooms. Pandian introduces Tempest Raj, the youngest in a line of magicians on her mother’s side and artists and builders on her father’s side. Tempest is an appealing, sassy, smart female lead who has tremendous potential to grow through the series. 

Tempest is calm, cool, and collected - most of the time - and lives in a magical compound with her father and grandparents. Readers who grew up with Nancy Drew, Narnia, and the Secret Garden will fall in love with the setting. 

Pandian uses the familiar series set up of a singular mystery that is introduced, investigated and solved in the course of the book, overlayed by a bigger mystery that will span multiple books. Here that bigger mystery is what happened to Tempest’s mother 5 years earlier when she truly vanished during a magic act. 

I was especially happy to see the introduction of the master of “locked room” mysteries - John Dickson Carr - used as part of the investigation here. I hope that continues. I’m looking forward to the next in this series.
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Tempest is a magician, unique for her heritage and the fact she is successful in a male-dominated profession, until a serious accident brings accusations of misconduct and negligence.  Tempest flees back to her childhood home, a fantastic creation built by her construction worker father and magician mother with all sorts of tricks and hidden rooms.  When Tempest's assistant/doppleganger turns up dead in a house that her father's construction company is workong on, Tempest can't help but think her family's curse is real...and she could be the next victim.

I love a good locked room mystery, and this one is literally a locked room magic trick!  Pandian easily weaves magic tricks into the plot, giving the reader just information to fill in the blanks....but are you filling them in correctly?  Tempest is a fun character, born in the middle of an actual tempest, making that part of her stage persona.  She has a really fun cast of supporting characters helping her solve her assistant's murders.  This was a really fun book to read!
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