reviewed by Gail Byrd
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.