Book Review: Under Lock & Skeleton Key (Secret Staircase Mystery #1) by Gigi Pandian

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Publication Date: March 15th, 2022
Pages: 352, hardcover
Source: NetGalley

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. 

Who better than a magician to unravel a locked room mystery?

Tempest Raj has returned home after nearly dying in her last magic show in Las Vegas. She can’t prove sabotage, but thinks her former assistant set her up. To Tempest’s surprise, her father’s crew find the body of her former assistant walled up in a property they are renovating. The only problem is, that section hadn’t been touched in decades, so it was impossible for her to be there. Tempest and her friends (including Sanjay, from Pandian’s Jaya Jones series) must unlock the mystery before Tempest becomes the next victim.

Tempest has had a rough go of it. She’s broke, has had to move back home with her father and grandparents, and may be sued by the venue where she used to perform. On top of that, she may be being haunted by her mother, who disappeared years ago, possibly due to the family curse.

Tempest is a likeable heroine and you’ll root for her. She’s not quite as fierce as she thinks she is, but she’s real and strong and has a good support system in her family and friends. She’s also lucky to have friends and family who share her interest in magic and puzzles. I was frankly jealous of her living space.

The story is well-written, and the action flows naturally. There are the requisite number of red herrings, and not too many potential villains. Like Tempest, once the reader figures out what made the crime impossible, the who and the how will follow.

Be sure to eat something before you read, as the food descriptions will make you hungry. Luckily, Pandian includes recipes in her books!

4 out of 5 magic stars – highly recommended.

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