In the midst of the 1920s, we meet the protagonist, Louise Lloyd who works at Maggie’s Cafe during the day and dances her nights away at The Zodiac. When several local Black girls are found dead including one in front of Maggie’s Cafe, Louise is forced into solving the case and investigating their deaths with a police officer.

Despite the glitz, glamour and Gatsby-like parties that we know the 1920s for, Dead Dead Girls presents a darker side of the Roaring Twenties era. The story opens up with a creepy experience Louise had as a teenager that lets readers know it’s adult fiction and not for the faint-hearted. It’s an unfortunate experience that goes on even today and it’s described in a way that could traumatise readers. But because of it, you are immediately drawn into reading the rest of the story. Dead Dead Girls has a diverse cast such as Rosa Maria, Rafael and others, and Nekesa Afia doesn’t shy away from exploring racism with these characters, weaving a realistic take on it that is very appreciated.

Despite the glitz, glamour and Gatsby-like parties that we know the 1920s for, Dead Dead Girls presents a darker side of the Roaring Twenties era.

Dead Dead Girls offers a compelling backdrop for a resourceful, glamorous heroine. Right from the get-go and through to the end, Louise Lloyd is a likeable and relatable character. She stands out as a young, queer Black heroine who has a big heart and a charm to her in many ways. Readers can really resonate with Louise from the way Afia writes her emotions and thoughts, pouring them into the story. Afia has readers travel to that time with the perfect use of slang incorporated throughout the book e.g. “pull a Daniel Boone … tonight was the berries.”

While Maggie’s Cafe is Louise’s place of peace by day, The Zodiac is her lively home where she can feel alive outside of the disaster and bubble out the chaos of the constant murders. The Zodiac Club is depicted as an amusing place, with Afia describing the customers’ sparkling attires, gin in everyone’s drinks and bands playing lively songs. Afia’s descriptions of the dancing during the 1920s makes it known to readers that the author is as experienced a dancer as Louise, so much so that readers will want to go to a night out at The Zodiac and join in to get away from the crime and misery in the world.

At times, there are moments where Louise is put into situations that make you hold your breath, and the story quite often builds up to themes of love and mystery. Dead Dead Girls is a powerful debut coming from Afia who has truly grasped the craft of using mystery and a diverse cast of characters to hold a reader’s interest from start to finish. The tone of the book was magical and readers will look forward to Harlem Renaissance Mystery #2.

By Nyasha Oliver

NYASHA OLIVER is a freelance writer, editor and founder of Nyam with Ny. She is also taking her first steps into the publishing world and is passionate about reading romance-fantasy literature with Black women as the protagonists. You can find her on Twitter @sincerelynyny_ or on her blog at www.nyamwithny.com.

NEKESA AFIA is a mystery writer with a love of musicals. She’s a true crime obsessive and loves to put together puzzles. Dead Dead Girls is her debut novel. You can find her on Twitter @nekesaafia or on her author website at https://www.nekesaafia.com.

Dead Dead Girls: A dark serial killer thriller set in 1920s HarlemDead Dead Girls Published by Berkley on 1 June 2021
Genres: Mystery, Historical fiction, African American, Debut
Pages: 336
Format: Paperback
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four-stars

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. 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. 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.