The Body in the Sealed Off Room
I keep wanting to read more of Gigi Pandian’s books. I’m woefully behind in her two other series, but when I saw she was starting a new series, I decided that I would keep up with the Secret Staircase Mysteries. It still took me six months to get to Under Lock and Skeleton Key, the first in the series, but I enjoyed it.
Tempest Raj has returned home after an almost deadly accident ended her career as a magician in Las Vegas. She’s finding comfort in being around her family, with her grandfather’s excellent cooking and the fun of her father’s business, Secret Staircase Construction, which builds custom secret rooms, staircases, etc. for their customers.
Her father’s current project involves a renovation for a single father. Tempest is there as the crew is starting their destruction of the part of the house they will be working on. They discover a secret room that appears to have been sealed up for decades. Only, when they open the wall, a body falls out – the body of a woman that Tempest knew. How did the victim get into the room? Who killed her?
Gigi Pandian has always enjoyed writing a locked room mystery, and that is going to be a feature of this series. As such, the book focuses as much on the how of the mystery as the who done it. I found myself caught up in both aspects of the puzzle and enjoyed seeing Tempest try to unlock the answer.
I did struggle with the book initially, however. Tempest has a lot of backstory, and it slows the book down at the beginning. No, we don’t get a data dump, but we get multiple teases about things, and I found that almost as frustrating. However, the further I got into the book, the more I was trapped by the story, and the backstory was all important to the story we are told here and understanding Tempest. There is certainly more to come with Tempest’s backstory, and I’m curious to see where it goes. This about this book like the pilot of a TV show, and you’ll be fine.
One thing that kept me reading the entire way through was the characters. I liked Tempest from the start, and her family and friends grew on me almost as quickly. In a fun touch, a supporting character from the author’s Jaya Jones series also appears here. I’ve only read a few books in that series, but I didn’t feel like there was anything you needed to know from those books to understand the character here.
This book also made good use of the many hooks. We’ve got magic. We’ve got secret rooms. We’ve got a locked room mystery. As a result, some aspects reminded me of the middle grade mysteries I read as a kid. I mean that as a compliment since it made me smile as I was reading.
While I wouldn't call this a culinary cozy, there is a lot of talk about the recipes that Tempest's grandfather makes. If you want to try them for yourself, you'll be happy to find four recipes at the end of the book.
Under Lock and Skeleton Key is a promising start to a new series. I’m anxious to see where Tempest’s story goes next.