Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) | Review

Posted July 26, 2021 by Cristina (Girl in the Pages) in Books, Reviews / 1 Comment

Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) | ReviewDead Dead Girls (Harlem Renaissance Mystery #1) by Nekesa Afia
Published by Berkley on June 1, 2021
Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Pages: 320 •Format: E-BookSource: Overdrive

The start of an exciting new historical mystery series set in 1920s Harlem featuring Louise Lloyd, a young black woman caught up in a series of murders way too close to home...

Harlem, 1926. Young black girls like Louise Lloyd are ending up dead.
Following a harrowing kidnapping ordeal when she was in her teens, Louise is doing everything she can to maintain a normal life. She's succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie's Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan's hottest speakeasy. Louise's friends might say she's running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don't tell her that.

When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she's been trying to ignore--several local black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.

Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. She'll have to tackle her own fears and the prejudices of New York City society if she wants to catch a killer and save her own life in the process.

I love a good historical fiction novel, so when I saw this 1920s story that was ALSO a mystery I knew I had to read it! Darker than I originally anticipated, Dead Dead Girls is a thriller set against a vibrant backdrop of 1920s Harlem.

I was instantly sucked into the story by it’s action packed first chapter, which features a young Louise (our protagonist) being kidnapped and then managing to attack and escape along with several other girls the man had kidnapped. While it was a bit of a jarring intro to the book, it sets the stage for Louise in the present day of the novel- 26, trying to drink and dance her history away, wanting to forget her past as “Harlem’s Hero.” Yet her distractions only go so far when a killer in the neighborhood starts leaving his victims bodies outside the cafe where she works. Due to a series of events, Louise ends up working the case alongside the police, trying to find the killer before more young women fall victim while also navigating politics, sexism, racism, and family drama.

In some ways this book gave me Nancy Drew vibes- the historical setting, the mystery that was compelling but not filled with edge-of-your-seat suspense, and a plucky protagonist. However, it was a Nancy Drew for the modern age, raising very real societal concerns of the time and weaving those elements into both Louise’s experience helping solve the case but also the attitude of the others involved and even the motivation of the killer. The writing wasn’t the best (and I felt like I noticed some inconsistencies in character actions, repetitive turns of phrases, things happening too conveniently, etc) but I liked the short, punchy chapters that kept me wanting to “just read one more” even though I really should have been sleeping. I also applaud the book for having a decent supporting cast of characters despite its shorter length, and I like how Louise’s friends were willing to call her out and balance her flaws, especially when she let her temper get the best of her.

I don’t want to talk too much about the mystery itself (it’s hard to review mystery books too in depth without giving away spoilers!) but it had a fair amount of twists and turns. I’ll admit I wasn’t 100% clear of the killer’s motives and the reveal felt a little clunky in some aspects (especially in regards to how it tied back to earlier events in the book) but I see what the author was trying to do. I also think the trauma of the experience (because the author really did not hold back with some of the things that happened to Louise) has left its mark on Louise and I can definitely see that being explored in future books.

Overall: A quick, promising start to a new historical fiction mystery series that bridges a past setting with a modern lens on social issues.

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