by Tim Suddeth

A Secret Staircase Mystery by Gigi Pandian

Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian

Under Lock and Skeleton Key by Gigi Pandian (2022, Minotaur Books) is the debut book in A Secret Staircase Mystery series. I’d read an interview with this author and found the story’s premise intriguing. How can the body of someone walking around the day before wind up inside of a wall that had been sealed up for over a century?

Book Summary

That is the dilemma that faces Tempest Raj. Tempest, a disgraced magician who has to return to her parent’s home after they shut down her Las Vegas magic act because of a near catastrophe. Was the catastrophe the result of an accident, sabotage, or the curse placed on her family?

It doesn’t help that the dead body is that of her former stunt double, Cassidy. Or that her family runs a construction company specializing in creating hidden rooms, sliding bookcases, and secret passages. To say that the police are curious puts it mildly.

Analysis

Under Lock and Skeleton Key is largely about mysteries, those kept by magicians as well as family secrets. And it is only by finding their answers can both a family curse be broken and a killer be found.

This book is a tribute to the locked room mysteries that were very popular in the early nineteen hundreds. Many recognized John Dickson Carr as the master of the genre. There are numerous references to popular mysteries authors and series, including Nancy Drew and Edgar Allan Poe.

It was also fun to be introduced to the world of stage magicians with its carefully crafted illusions and uses of misdirection. It was equally nice to see a multi-generational Anglo-Indian family interact, including at mealtime. Her grandfather’s love for cooking showcases several delicious sounding recipes.

Author’s Bio

(From the back cover flap) “Gigi Pandian is the USA Today Bestselling and multiple-award-winning author. Her other writings include of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and several locked-room mystery short stories. Her works have won her the Agatha, Anthony, Lefty, and Derringer awards. They awarded her debut novel the Malice Domestic Grant. A breast cancer survivor and accidental almost-vegan who adores cooking, Pandian lives with her husband in Northern California. Under Lock and Skeleton Key is the first in a new series that draws upon the author’s own family history.”

Final Recommendation

I found Under Lock and Skeleton Key a fun read with new and original situations. Some of the storylines seemed rushed or dropped too hastily. And it was tough to keep the characters straight because they came and went so quickly. But these are often problems for the first book in a series.

Overall, I definitely recommend this story. I like that it is a fresh voice that pays homage to so many vintage mysteries. If I ever need a room added to the Suddeth Manor, I’ll think about giving the Secret Staircase Construction crew a call.

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