Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia is the first book in the Harlem Renaissance series. The dark violence of the missing, and then murdered, dancers of the local speakeasy is set amongst the bright lights and soulful jazz music of Harlem. While I don’t often read books set in the past, I have always been captivated by the glitz, glam, and grit of this time period. I love the strong female characters the 1920s created and how they were shaped by the rules they broke for a modicum of freedom.
Our main character, Louise Lloyd, is a feisty five-foot tall Black woman who, despite a difficult upbringing and traumatic event from her past, was able to dance out of that darkness one Charleston at a time. I really appreciated how strong and independent Louise was, but that she still had moments of vulnerability. As a reader, you can’t help but root for her.
A QUICK SUMMARY:
Louise Lloyd enjoys cutting a rug at the Zodiac club with her best friends, sipping on Coca Cola, and working at Maggie’s Cafe. But when dancers from Maggie’s underground club start turning up dead, Louise is dragged into the investigation of the Girl Killer (not the most original name, I will say). Detectives Martin and Gilbert coerce Louise into becoming an investigator due to her ability to move through the community and talk to those closest to the victims. Together, they set out to unravel the mystery of the murders. Why are these women being targeted? Is the fact they’re being left on the stoop of Maggie’s Cafe a message?
All the while, Louise is still haunted by a kidnapping that happened to her ten years ago. When the murdered girls’ stories begin to shape around this traumatic event, Louise realizes that at least some part of what’s happening is because of her. As women Louise cares about start turning up dead, it adds extra pressure to figure out who is behind the murders before he gets his hands on his real target: Louise.
During the investigation, Louise’s relationships are tested and she is subjected to constant criticism and doubt due to both her skin color and gender. Though Louise is barely more than five-feet tall, she doesn’t let that stop her and she will do anything she can to bring justice to the murdered women.
Dead Dead Girls
Genre: Historical/ Historical Mystery
Dead Dead Girls is the first book in the Harlem Renaissance series. Louise Lloyd gets swept up in a murder spree, in which all the victims are dancers at underground speakeasies. Louise must discover the killer before she becomes his next victim.
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I liked the world Afia created. I think she did a decent job capturing both sides of the brightly lit and seedier underbelly of Harlem. She also crafted likable characters, especially Louise, Rosa Maria (Louise’s secret girlfriend and best friend), and Rosa Maria’s brother, Raphael.
The book opens with Louise’s abduction, which immediately made me wonder if the overall plot would somehow tie back to her escape. This is one of the things that kept me engaged and invested in the story, as I wanted to find out if I was right. But the writing has almost a YA tone, so the story moves along quickly whether you’re reading for that reason or not. I think the simplicity of the story is what created my biggest issue with the book.
Since the writing isn’t overly complicated and feels as if it was written for a younger audience, the author didn’t push or develop things as much as she could have. We get glimpses of the 1920s and the Harlem Renaissance, but not enough to keep it from coming across as modern. The motivations for actions (especially of the killer) weren’t explained thoroughly, so I was left with a sense of unfinished plots.
There are glimpses of racism and sexism, but these experiences could have also been explored more. There were only a handful of off-side comments, when in reality Louise would have experienced harsher and more frequent discrimination (especially when she was teaming up with two white male cops). This is not to say I wanted it shoved in my face, but sometimes it felt glossed over, which didn’t feel entirely honest to the time period and overall story.
While I did enjoy this book, it was a three star read for me because it didn’t feel fully developed. But I am really excited to read the next book in the series and to continue with Louise’s story.
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Harlem Sunset by Nekesa Afia
Genre: Mystery/ Historical Fiction
Harlem Sunset takes place a year after the case of The Girl Killer. When Louise’s girlfriend wakes up covered in a blood, Louise is once again on the case. This time, however, the person she loves is the number one suspect.
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