Under Lock & Skeleton Key

A Secret Staircase Mystery

This title was previously available on NetGalley and is now archived.
Buy on Amazon Buy on BN.com Buy on Bookshop.org
*This page contains affiliate links, so we may earn a small commission when you make a purchase through links on our site at no additional cost to you.
Send NetGalley books directly to your Kindle or Kindle app

To read on a Kindle or Kindle app, please add kindle@netgalley.com as an approved email address to receive files in your Amazon account. Click here for step-by-step instructions.
Also find your Kindle email address within your Amazon account, and enter it here.
Pub Date Mar 15 2022 | Archive Date Apr 05 2022
St. Martin's Press | Minotaur Books


"Wildly entertaining." —The New York Times Book Review

A Lefty Nominee for Best Mystery Novel

Known for her wonderfully addictive characters, multiple award-winning author Gigi Pandian introduces her newest heroine in this heartfelt series debut. Under Lock & Skeleton Key layers stunning architecture with mouthwatering food in an ode to classic locked-room mysteries that will leave readers enchanted.

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

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.

"Wildly entertaining." —The New York Times Book Review

A Lefty Nominee for Best Mystery Novel

Known for her wonderfully addictive characters, multiple award-winning author Gigi Pandian introduces her...

Available Editions

EDITION Other Format
ISBN 9781250804983
PRICE $26.99 (USD)

Available on NetGalley

NetGalley Shelf App (EPUB)
Send to Kindle (EPUB)

Average rating from 277 members

Featured Reviews

murder, murder-investigation, illusionists, curse, cultural-heritage, family-dynamics, friendship, secrets, California, recipes, sabotage, small-business, small-town*****

The Secret Staircase is a niche construction company run by Tempest's father born in India (mother
born in Scotland disappeared five years ago). Tempest Raj was highly paid as an illusionist/magician in Las Vegas until an illusion gone wrong nearly killed her and destroyed the venue. Now she is back home to her father, grandparents, and friends in their very unusual home. It's a tree house! She was told that she lives under a curse and that her mother was a Selkie. All she knows is that the day that she went to the new job site with her dad she met a lonely little boy and also found the body of her recent stunt double. Unravelling the mysteries is a real challenge and there are so many red herrings and... But no spoilers! It's a great story written with full homage to many of the old masters of the locked room genre! Can't wait to get my own copy (probably an audio so it doesn't walk away).
I requested and received a free temporary ebook copy from St Martin's Press/Minotaur via NetGalley. Thank you!

Was this review helpful?

Thoroughly enjoyed this book. I want to be an honorary member of the Raj family! Will purchase for library and hope a sequel is in the works.

Was this review helpful?

On the count of 3, I'll summon a well-plotted novel with magic and mystery as its focus... Are you ready?

1, 2, 3!

This book feels like a Nancy Drew mystery melded with Now You See Me and I absolutely loved it! Some have called it "gothic cozy" and I totally agree. With the secret staircases and the small town vibes, this is a cozy mystery in a gothic setting that will leave you gasping. I loved Tempest as a character - she's bold and brash, but also kind and intelligent. You just instantly root for her. Plus the locked door mystery? Such a classic, but this one is done so well. We get to delve into the history of locked door mysteries courtesy of Professor Ivy, but there are still so many magical twists in the story. I cannot WAIT for book 2 and have no doubt that it'll be as spellbinding as the first.

*Thank you to NetGalley and Minotaur Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review*

Was this review helpful?

I had so much fun reading this novel! I love the magic and the mystery and the all-round excitement surrounding curses and disappearances.

Although this novel is an adult read, I think it would make an excellent YA novel too. The themes are very evident and prevalent throughout, and the plot is very straightforward and easy to follow.

Tempest enlists the help of a very interesting group of individuals to figure out who killed her lookalike. Together, they have to figure out if there really is a family curse, or if someone is coming after her to make it look this way.

I definitely highly recommend this read to all mystery lovers! I can't wait until another book in the series is released.

Was this review helpful?

Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian. This is the story of Tempest from a family of magicians with a curse that the eldest child dies by magic. Tempest has just been tossed out of Las Vegas by a trick that went bad. I really loved this story and I hope there is a book 2. I love the characters, the grandparents are awesome and I love the food descriptions with recipes included! I love the magic trips! I want to go visit Fiddlers Folly! Will recommend this book. Thank you for letting me review this book

Was this review helpful?

I'm a big fan of Gigi Pandian's books, so I was very excited to dive into the first book in her new series! It features a new amateur sleuth, magician Tempest Raj, but longtime readers of her work will recognize Sanjay "The Hindi Houdini" Rai from several other stories and novels by Pandian.

Tempest was a successful illusionist with an elaborate Las Vegas show until a mysterious accident derailed her career and blackened her reputation. She heads home to the San Francisco Bay Area, where her father runs a business called Secret Staircase Construction, specializing in building hidden rooms, mysterious locking mechanisms, and other unique features. He founded the company with Tempest's late mother, whose imaginative ideas made the company a hit; lacking her special touch, it's become financially unstable. (We don't learn much about Tempest's mom's death, which makes me wonder if it'll play a larger role in a future novel. Sometimes it's referred to as her "disappearance," so perhaps she's not actually dead at all? Time will tell!)

The Raj family is allegedly cursed, going back several generations. The curse decrees that the eldest child will die by magic. Apparently that threat wasn't enough to make Tempest choose a different line of work, but after her near miss in Vegas, it is very much on her mind. When the stage double from her Vegas show is found dead in a locked room, Tempest believes that she may have been the intended victim.

I've often had dreams about discovering a hidden room in my house, so all of the details about Secret Staircase Construction were such fun to read about! Pandian frequently calls back to the classic locked room mysteries of old (Tempest's best friend Ivy works in a library dedicated to the form), but as someone who has read a lot of Golden Age novels, I have to say that I prefer her modern spin on the genre; she presents us with both a tricky case AND a cast of quirky, sympathetic characters. Many thanks to Minotaur Books via NetGalley for the chance to get an advance peek at this enjoyable new series!

Was this review helpful?

Magician Tempest Raj returns home to Hidden Creek, California after a disastrous accident puts an end to her Las Vegas show. Her hope of salvaging her reputation and rebuilding her career hits a major snag with the discovery of the body of her doppelgänger assistant from her stage show hidden within a wall. Was Tempest actually the intended target of a murderer?

Unsettled, Tempest sets out to find some answers. How did Cassidy’s body get inside the wall? Is Tempest fated to become the unwitting victim of the family curse, the one that says the eldest child in the family dies through magic? And did the curse play a part in her mother’s long-ago disappearance?

Can Tempest, surrounded by a family determined to protect her, find the answers?


This Secret Staircase Mystery hits all the right notes. Secret Staircase Construction, a business owned by Tempest’s father, creates hidden rooms for clients; here the locked room story receives a fresh twist with the inclusion of magic within the telling of the tale. Secret rooms, hidden staircases, treehouse homes . . . the distinctive setting is well-drawn, believable, and fascinating.

With readers pulled into the telling of the tale from the outset, the unfolding narrative pays homage to mystery authors, both classic and present, while the unique story keeps the pages turning. And recipes are included so that readers can recreate the mouth-watering dishes Tempest’s grandfather whips up throughout the story. [Cardamom cookies, please.]

Strong, nuanced characters populate the narrative; Tempest’s quirky, compassionate family is delightful and a perfect counterpoint to Tempest’s spirited nature. The plot offers several surprises as the unfolding story reveals the truth while leaving a question or two for readers to ponder, especially as it relates to Tempest’s mother. The denouement is perfect and is sure to please readers.

First in a series, this unique and enchanting “gothic cozy” is sure to be a reader favorite.

Highly recommended.

I received a free copy of this eBook from St. Martin’s Press, Minotaur Books and NetGalley
#UnderLock&SkeletonKey #NetGalley

Was this review helpful?

Magic and mystery, I absolutely loved it! I love Tempest as a character and had so much fun reading this novel! I definitely highly recommend this read to all mystery lovers! I can't wait until another book in the series is released. I love Gigi’s other series also.

Was this review helpful?

Gigi Pandian is a new author to me, and I'm so glad to have found her! Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a well-written, thoroughly engrossing mystery that I could barely put down.

Tempest Raj is a magician, from a family of magicians. The alleged family curse, that the eldest child dies by magic, didn't keep her from following in the footsteps of other family members. But now she's come back home in disgrace after an illusion goes horribly wrong, facing lawsuits and the possibility of never performing again. She finds comfort in her grandfather's home-cooked meals and in the quirky house her parents designed and created. She also finds her family determined to protect her from what they see as the curse at work.

But when the body of Tempest's former assistant, Cassidy, is found seemingly walled up at the latest job site for her father's construction company, and when she thinks she sees and hears the ghost of her mother, Tempest knows she's got to figure out what's really going on. Is it the alleged curse? Was she meant to be the dead body, or was Cassidy's body put there for her to find for some reason?

I love Tempest! As her name implies, she's headstrong and often quick to jump into action. This sometimes gets her in trouble. Thankfully, she's got friends and family who have her back.

And I want to move in with her family. Grannie Mor is delightful, and I want to eat some of Grandpa Ash's home cooked meals. I think it's wonderful that he goes around delivering lunches to people on his bicycle. And a house with all those secret rooms and nooks and crannies! That would be such a neat place to live.

If you're a fan of the locked-room mystery, you will love, love, love this book. It pays homage to several masters of the genre, and Pandian does a fine job setting up her own locked-room puzzle. I certainly didn't see the reveal coming. Since this is #1 in a series, I hope we'll see more of Tempest and her friends and family.

Was this review helpful?

UNDER LOCK AND KEY by Gigi Pandian is an incredible locked-room mystery that enthralled me from start to finish. Tempest Raj is a stage magician from a long line of (some say cursed) performers. A near-deadly mishap during a performance costs her a lucrative Las Vegas contract and few believe her when she says her assistant set her up.

Tempest returns home to regroup, enjoy her grandfather’s incredible Indian fusion cooking, and figure out what went wrong. When she visits her father’s latest project, creating a secret room in a historic house, things take an even darker turn. Tempest’s assistant’s body is found in a sealed-up room. She’s going to need every bit of knowledge gleaned from classic locked room mysteries and all of her stage magician know-how about misdirection to figure out how the body got there and why. More importantly, was Tempest the intended victim? Did she just miss being the latest casualty of the family curse that claims the firstborn of each generation?

This ticked so many boxes for me!
Love for classic mysteries, especially locked rooms
Secret rooms and passageways - Tempest’s family home sounds like a dream come true
Hauntings - especially if there’s potential for a Scooby Doo unmasking of a faker
Family curses
Reunions with estranged BFFs
Glorious food - the descriptions of her grandfather’s cooking had my mouth watering
A diverse cast of characters

Tempest was so relatable in her determination to not be defeated and to get to the bottom of what was going on. Her loyalty to her family and friends was heartwarming. The extended family that her father created with his business made me happy.

So many quirky characters that I wanted to hang out with. A library with a train car! A secret garden! So many amazing places. The author’s gift for writing captivating and lush descriptions is incredible.

And the mystery kept me guessing right up to the end.

Was this review helpful?

Wow what a fun book! Do you love cozy mysteries? This is a "gothic cozy" and it was dark and delicious with recipes and murder rolled into a small town girl makes good, suffers setback, and returns.

The great Tempest Raj is a highly paid illusionist with parents hailing from India and Scotland. A very large scale illusion goes wrong publically and it causes her to return home to her small town unemployed and embarrassed. While there, she becomes embroiled in a murder mystery when an associate of hers is found behind the wall of a building project.

Will she solve the mystery? Is her life in danger? Can she make good on her previous mistakes as an entertainer and potentially find love?

Gigi Pandian is an excellent writer and controls the narrative like a conductor in front of a symphony. It was a true pleasure to read this book, I didn't want it to ever end. I look forward to reading more about Tempest and trying some of the delicious recipes.

If you love a locked room mystery, get to this book as quick as you can! #NetGalley #UnderLockandSkeletonKey

Was this review helpful?

Family intrigue – check, Murder and Mystery – check, finding a way back home literally and figuratively – double check! Tempest Raj is a magician whose career is derailed after a horrible accident. Tempest heads back home to Fiddler’s Folly to let home, family and friends heal her. But when her stage double, Cassidy Sparrow is found dead at the construction site of her Father’s company, Tempest wonders if she was meant to be the victim of a crime or of the family curse. Luckily for Tempest, she has family including her Father Darius, Grandpa Ash and Grannie Mor and friends plus a magical house complete with hidden doors, secret staircases and doors that open with no keys to help her solve the mystery.

This story was well written and I thoroughly enjoyed the mystery and the twists and turns in solving it. I couldn’t figure out who was behind the mystery, pulling all the strings until it hit me smack in the face. This is my first time reading this author and I found her storytelling to be engaging, the story flowed with a suspenseful plot and interesting characters. I enjoyed the relationship between Tempest and her family, finding each character endearing and likeable. I look forward to the next story involving Tempest and her mystery busting circle.

Was this review helpful?

Oh my goodness how did I not know about Gigi Pandan before?? I had seen references to The Accidental Alchemist and thought it looked interesting but now that I have read this book there is no way I will not race to read everything she's written...

This was such a clever and fun story! The characterizations were great - everyone is just a little bit flawed but utterly believable for it. Plot and misdirection where as engaging as a stage show. I loved the references to famous tricks and magicians past.

But without a doubt one of my favorite elements of this book, and the one that made it stand out from other mysteries, was the magic of the construction and the glory of Fiddler's Folly and the Knights' house. The secret room building business should definitely be one that makes its way to my part of the world - I cannot imagine how glorious it would be to live in a house with secret staircase construction!

I loved the blending of Indian and Scottish culture, the recipes at the end, and the descriptions of food throughout - as well as the mixing of mythologies and cultures. It made for a wholly original and very engaging read for me. I cannot wait for the next book in the series!

Was this review helpful?

This fun, whimsical book is the first of a series, which is exciting!

Tempest Raj is the latest in a line of famous magicians. Her act in Las Vegas had been extremely popular, until her assistant sabotaged her new show. Now her agent is worried she's going to be sued, and Tempest has gone home to lick her wounds and figure out how to prove she wasn't negligent but set up.

Her family lives in a very unique house and runs Secret Staircase Construction. They specialize in crafting secret rooms and hiding spaces, and do high-quality work that always has a story behind it. Or, at least, it did while Tempest's mother was alive. She disappeared 5 years ago. There has always been talk about a family curse, with the oldest child of each generation dying. But in her mother's generation, both daughters passed away (or at least, it is assumed that her mother died, as she's been gone for five years without a word).

Tempest is trying to find a way back to Vegas, but when they find her old assistant's body in the wall of the house they're renovating (a seemingly impossible magic trick, because the wall obviously hadn't been disturbed in many years), she also has to solve the mystery to get her life back on track.

I loved this book. There are fantastic descriptions of all of the secret places in their home, the mashup recipes her grandfather makes, drawing from his Indian heritage and his wife's Scottish heritage, and the magic tricks Tempest and her magician friends employ. There is an intriguing mystery to solve, and even ghostly appearances. I look forward to the next installment of this series!

Thanks to Netgalley for the advance copy!

Was this review helpful?

Despite her best efforts, Tempest Raj ends up working for her father's company, a unique business that builds secret staircases and other childlike features into its clients homes. When Tempest discovers a body behind a wall, she swerves in to another unexpected career: amateur sleuth. This charming, satisfying mystery will appeal to fans of classic mysteries.

Was this review helpful?

I was drawn to this mystery from the moment I read the premise. A home renovation company that makes secret passageways! So clever and fun! The mystery itself was super twisty and ingenious. I can't wait to read more in this series and will be recommending to mystery lovers.

Was this review helpful?

An impossible crime. A family legacy. The intrigue of hidden rooms and secret staircases.

Every now and again you come across a book that is masterfully crafted, filled with nail biting action mixed with real life and grabs you on the first page. This is true of Under Lock and Skeleton Key. Pandian does an amazing job of creating characters that draw vivid, observing many wondrous spaces while blending in staple mystery ideals that reach back to Agatha Christie and the golden age of mysteries.

This fast paced book was filled with magic, likable and vivid characters, and gave the reader a solid foundation in magic. This book is well worth the price of admission and I cannot wait to check in with Tempest again and see what happens next in her world!
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.

Was this review helpful?

Food, magic, true crime all came together in this story to tell you that there are no monsters but people in monster disguise like Fred Jones would tell to Scooby-Doo. There are no curses, but people who do not want to accept the unspeakable truth. Lies might protect your loved ones until they create bigger problems than truth itself.

Tempest (also what a name) was a magician like many people on her mother's side of the family. She was part of that famous Raj klan making impossible look like an everyday thing. But she failed her last act (more like she was forced to fail her last act). Leaving everything behind along with her wealth, she came back her magic box of a childhood home to live with her father and maternal grandparents. There were limited job opportunities waiting for her, so she chose to go with more familiar one: working with her dad at his construction firm where they build secret libraries, pathways and other contraptions. On her first day at work, a wall spit out a dead body of her body double to her lap. What happened after that was fit for a famous magician.

Who could be the better detective for this almost impossible looking case other than a magician / detective book aficionado duo. One has the theoretical knowledge of all impossible use cases that human mind can put on a paper while the other has the practical knowledge of making impossible possible. With help of endless supply of really yummy food and other "practitioners", Tempest went on an expedition to find who murdered her body double and what her inheritance was. I see this book reflected as #1 of a series in some sources, and I really want it to be true since I would love to read more about Tempest and her little world of wonders.

Was this review helpful?

Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for this ARC in exchange for an honest review!

Under Lock & Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian is an unputdownable mystery featuring an Indian-American protagonist! The story revolves around Tempest Raj, who is moving home in her mid-20's. She's happy to be eating her family's Indian food and learning what her family and old friends have been up to. One day, her former stage double is found dead inside a wall that's been closed for over a century. Was the killer after the stage double or were they after Tempest? And how was it possible for them to murder them in a sealed-off wall? Tempest will have to be solve the mystery before she ends up the killer's next victim!

Here's a fascinating excerpt from Chapter 1 that introduces the setting:

"As her dad loved to say: What happens when a carpenter and a stage magician fall in love? They form a Secret Staircase Construction business to bring magic to people through their homes.
The idea was quite romantic. Tempest’s parents specialized in building ingeniously hidden rooms for people who fancied a bookshelf that slid open when you reached for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase; or a secret reading nook that only appeared when you said the words “open sesame”; or perhaps a door in a grandfather clock that led to a secret garden. Tempest’s house—named Fiddler’s Folly for her mom’s favorite instrument, and a tongue-in-cheek reference to the architectural term for decorative buildings different inside than their outward appearance—had all three features. And many more, including the tree house in back. Tempest loved every inch of it. What she didn’t love was the fact that at twenty-six, she’d been forced to move back."

Overall, Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a captivating mystery that reminded me of a grown-up The Inheritance Games or the movie Knives Out. I enjoyed following Tempest as she puts together the clues and solves this '"locked room" mystery. One highlight of this book is the mystery aspect. I used to love reading mysteries, and this book was like a throwback to Sherlock Holmes, Nancy Drew, and The Hardy Boys. If the author continues this series, I will definitely continue reading! Another highlight of this book was that the protagonist and several side characters are People of Color. As an Asian-American myself, I am so happy to support this book, which features an Indian-American detective. If you're intrigued by the excerpt above, or if you're a fan of mysteries, I highly recommend that you check out this book when it comes out in March!

Was this review helpful?

I really loved this book!! It had so many twists and turns. It kept me on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen next!! This was my first book by this Author, and it won’t be the last!! Quick read!! Highly recommended!! You won’t be disappointed!!

Was this review helpful?

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!

Was this review helpful?

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.

Was this review helpful?

"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!

Was this review helpful?

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.

Was this review helpful?

WOW, we have a winner!

We learn that Tempest has gone home to California where she plans on eating lots of her grandfather's home-cooked meals. During her stay, she visits her father's recent renovation project to find a dead body. One that is behind a wall that was supposedly sealed for more than a century. And, so the mystery begins.

Under Lock & Skeleton Key is a masterpiece. I could not put this book down, and the storyline and well-crafted characters left me wanting more.

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?

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?

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?

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?

Readers who liked this book also liked: