Cover Image: Under Lock & Skeleton Key

Under Lock & Skeleton Key

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Member Reviews

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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I reviewed this for Mystery Scene Magazine please refer to issue 171 Spring 2022 for my complete reivew
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Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is the first in the Secret Staircase Mystery. Tempest has grown up in a family of magicians and is carrying on the family tradition. She has a show in Las Vegas until someone tries to kill her and she is seen as “pushing the limits too far to keep herself in the limelight”. Tempest loses everything and moves back home with her father and grandparents. Her mother, who was the creative part of the business, went missing years ago but left Tempest with a key and a special bracelet. Not soon after she arrives home her stage double, Casey, is found deceased in a wall on a property her father is revamping. Throw in a stalker, stollen items, secret staircases and cubbies, a missing bracelet and key and you are off on a wild goose chase to catch a killer. There are a fair number of characters to keep tract of which makes the story confusing at times. Otherwise it is a magical and creative novel.  I received this novel as an advanced copy. The opinions are all my own.
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Ehhhhhhh. This was okay. It felt choppy and the story wasn’t all that engaging; I didn’t feel the tension that I knew was supposed to be there. The characters were fun, but I hope the storytelling smooths out if there’s a next one.
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"Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is the first in the new Secret Staircase Mystery series and is such a fun and unique mystery novel!  Tempest Raj was a famous magician with a show in Las Vegas until one of her stunts went wrong, ending her show and her career.  Soon after making her way back to her family home, Tempest soon finds herself in a mystery of her own.  While helping her family's Secret Staircase Construction company (which specialized in building things like elaborate treehouses and secret rooms for their clients) on a project, the body of Tempest's double from her stage show is discovered hidden behind a sealed wall in an old home that the company is hired to add a secret room to.  Tempest is afraid that she was meant to be the intended victim due to the supposed curse that killed previous members of her magician family, including her own mother, she sets out to discover the truth of how the body got behind the wall, with the help of her mystery-loving childhood friend Ivy, friend and fellow magician Sanjay, and the construction company's newest employee, Gideon.

"Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is a wonderful ode to the classic locked-room mystery, with a wonderful cast of characters including the misfits who work for her father's company, her friend Ivy, her rabbit Abracadabra,  and Tempest's Indian grandfather Ash, and her Scottish grandmother Morag.  It's was an engaging and fast-paced read, and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of this series.

Thanks to NetGalley, and St Martins Press and Minotaur Books for providing me with an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.  "Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is scheduled to be released on 3/22/22.
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⭐⭐⭐⭐+ Stars
This is Book #1 in the Staircase Mystery series. 
I got my love of mysteries when I was eight years-old  and read the Trixie Belton series then moved on to Nancy Drew. So this series sounded perfect for me! 

Story stars when out protagonist Tempest Raj was in a disastrous accident on stage in Vegas. This accident has certainly put a halt to her career. When she leaves Vegas, Sanjay Rai aka “the Hindi Houdini” (he thinks of himself as an escape artist ;his illusions blend Eastern and Western magic )  is Tempest’s friend who believes her innocence, in fact he offered her a job as his assistant; which doesn’t go well with Tempest. She is actually insulted.
Tempest returns to her childhood home in northern California. 
Her father has offered her a job in his design company “Secret Staircase Construction”. His company and designers brings hidden staircases and other magic into homes as well as backyard treehouses. 

Note to other Avid readers: Doesn’t a secret room behind a sliding bookcase sound like the perfect spot for a reading room?

While checking on her dad’s latest renovation, she and the work men discover a dead body hidden inside a wall which was supposed to have been sealed for one hundred years! Yikes the body turns out to be Cassidy Sparrow who worked as Tempest’s stage double.

                                        This is truly is a roller coaster ride on a magic carpet!

I always love reading the author’s ‘Acknowledgements and or Notes’. In this case I could not wait to read Ms. Pandian’s inspiration for writing this story. I was sure it took years to write. She mentioned that she was writing this as she was recovering from her cancer.
My first author, Gigi Pandian and I am certainly looking forward to the next in this series!

Want to thank NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press ~ Minotaur Books for this eGalley. This file has been made available to me before publication in an early form for an honest professional review.  
Publishing Release Date scheduled for March 15, 2022
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Tempest Raj is a famous magician. She headlines her own show in Vegas and dazzles the crowds until the night that a trick goes wrong and Tempest is blamed for a fire on stage. She comes back to her family home to put her life back together away from the media and the fans. When her father invites her to visit the home where his crew is doing some specialized construction, no one expects to find a dead body hidden within the walls of the house, or that it would be Tempest's stage double. Can things get any worse?

If you like mysteries with plenty of misdirection (like good stage magic), then you should read Under Lock & Skeleton Key. There are secret passages, hidden doors, jealous rivals, obsessed stalkers, a family curse, former friends, a pet rabbit (every magician needs a bunny, right?), lots of delicious homecooked food, ghostly apparitions, a possible romance, eccentric relatives and more. Several of the characters are fans of mystery books like Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden, and of classic magicians like Harry Houdini and Adelaide Herrmann. 

In a way Tempest is a typical twenty-something who is still dealing with the loss of her mother, the breakdown of other relationships as she focused on her grief, and the awkwardness of reconnecting with old friends and the return to her childhood home. But she is also a skilled illusionist, steeped in stagecraft and sleight of hand, and grimly determined to figure out what is going on. With some magic, some mystery, and a few helping hands, perhaps Tempest can bring down the curtain on this mystery and claim a fresh start for herself.

Publication date is set for March 15, so this might be your beach read for spring break.
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I liked the premise but I found the transitions really abrupt. I couldn't get that invested in the main character, especially as her narration had quite a few weird "gotcha" moments.
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A modern take on a classic locked-room mystery. Disgraced magician Tempest Raj finds herself back in her family home after her career implodes very publicly and very dramatically. Was it an accident? Was it sabotage? Or was it the old Raj family curse in which the eldest child of each generation is doomed to die by magical means? 

Tempest finds herself working for her dad's home renovation company, which specializes in custom home features like hidden rooms, secret passages, and the like. While on a renovation project, a wall is removed, revealing the dead body of Tempest's former magician's assistant (who was a very close doppelganger to Tempest herself). One problem - that wall showed no signs of having been touched since the house was built, no secret passageways, no way anyone could have accessed it to place the body. How did she get in there? And why was she murdered?

Highly enjoyable. Plenty of references to classic magical tricks, classic detective fiction, and who doesn't love a locked-room mystery?
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What a magical read ;) I’m a huge fan of the cozy mystery genre and think this is the first I’ve read incorporating a magician.  I loved all the characters of this book and 1000% want to move into the Raj house!  For once, I did not see the end coming and really enjoyed the adventure it took me on.  Keeping my fingers crossed for a sequel!
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This book had a certain charm, but it asked a lot of patience from me, it was too long, too detailed about things i didn't care about.  Once I got more into the heart of the book i was glad i plugged along but really don't want to have to work this hard for a light read like this was
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"Under Lock & Skeleton Key" is a cozy mystery. This is not a "how are the tricks done" story as only two magic tricks were explained. Usually it was "she made the cards disappear" or "she pulled the book and the bookshelf door opened." I didn't expect a magic instruction book, but it turns out that being told a trick had been done had less appeal than actually seeing it done. The story was as much about backstory as the current mystery. The author destroyed the suspense several times by things like having a body fall out of a wall, then spending pages describing the background of everyone on her dad's crew (which had nothing to do with the body). Or being shocked to learn who the dead person was only to spend a chapter explaining the family curse to the reader rather than showing her reaction.

Tempest was a nice, talented gal who was willing to apologize to save a friendship. The mystery was guessable from the clues. I was distracted by false clues in the beginning, but so was everyone else. Once Tempest's charm bracelet was stolen, it was easy for me to figure out who took it and, from there, to see further connections in the mystery. While I did guess whodunit before the reveal and some of why, the mystery was complex enough to kept me guessing about various elements until the confession. There was no sex or bad language. Overall, I'd recommend this complex mystery.
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First in a new series, with secret staircases and magic! It was quite long, so as to setup a lot of other longer term mysteries, but I’m intrigued enough to see what book 2 brings. I will say though that this really goes into some details about magic and illusions, but goes into some serious details about locked room mysteries and whatnot. I could do with a little less of the explanations as they were harder to follow along with and took me out of the stories while I was trying to fully grasp what they were saying.
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Extremely well written with a great premise, I was surprised how much I got into this book. A page turner for sure. Highly recommend.
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