There is a lot to love in Nekesa Afia’s debut mystery Dead Dead Girls. This book is an amateur sleuth-style mystery. Our sleuth is 26-year old Louise Lovey Lloyd. A Black woman in 1920s Harlem, she works as a waitress in a café over a kinda sleezy speakeasy by day and dances her feet off in the best club in the neighborhood at night. On her way home from a late night of music and drinking, Louise and her companion Rosa Maria discover the body of a teen in the cafe’s doorway. Louise feels for the girl who reminds her of her younger self, of her younger sisters. With a spine of steel, Louise works with the New York police to go into the one place they can’t, the homes and businesses of Black New York.
Rating Dead Dead Girls on a 5-point scale against the perfect mystery, I give this 3.5 stars.
Strengths of the story. The lead character is vividly imagined and brought out on the page. You can the pride and frustration that would come with being friends with the smart and courageous woman. The setting is equally well drawn out, letting us feel the pulse of the band as Louise dances the Charleston. I simply love the language. I do not know how much research Ms. Afia did, but it was worth it. The slang is a key part of being transported to this neighborhood, at this point in time. The story is well told in the noun-verb-noun sense and is well edited, as you would expect with Berkley Prime Crime.
Where the story fell short of ideal. Ms. Afia weaves a complicated plot for her debut novel and with that intricacy comes the opportunity to make leaps in logic and leave string hanging. It is the type of story that at the end you think ‘ok, fine. That’s good.’ And then the questions start popping up. What about this and how was that managed. Beside the mystery itself, this happens with the apparent constant threat Louise is under. For readers who tend not to dissect the logic of a story, I am confident you will be delighted with this one.
Bottomline: Dead Dead Girls is for you if you like dynamic amateur sleuths and the under explored time of 1920s Harlem.