- Gabby Womack
Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia
Rating: 3 stars
Genre: Mystery/Historical Fiction
The start of an exciting new historical mystery series set during the Harlem Renaissance from debut author Nekesa Afia.
Harlem, 1926. Young Black women 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. She’s succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie’s Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Harlem’s hottest speakeasy. Louise’s friends, especially her girlfriend, Rosa Maria Moreno, might say she’s running from her past and the notoriety that still stalks her, but don’t tell her that.
When a girl turns up dead in front of the café, Louise is forced to confront something she’s been trying to ignore—two other local Black girls have been murdered in the past few weeks. After an altercation with a police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or wind up in a jail cell. Louise has no choice but to investigate and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind hell-bent on taking more lives, maybe even her own....
Dead Dead Girls swept me up into a muggy Summer in 1920’s Harlem from the first chapter. Louise is a 20-something, independent gal from a religious family. Ten years ago, she saved herself and other girls from the man who had abducted them. Everyone who heard the story had high expectations of Harlem’s hero. Now, Louise is a waitress at Maggie’s and just enjoys going out dancing with her girlfriend and friend. She doesn’t want the attention that situation brought her, so it makes sense that she’s reluctant to begin investigating the string of murders that start at her job’s doorstep.
I enjoyed the intrigue of this book! Here are some of the things I was happy to see addressed in the book:
+Harlem daily life and connections with neighbors
+Black & Latinx characters
+Queer characters & reality of queerness
+Expectations of Black women at the time
Afia also included plenty of people who made good suspects for the investigation. However, there were some things about Louise that I found a bit odd. In some scenes, she had natural suspicions of the people she was with but, in others, she seemed too trusting and almost oblivious. I couldn’t understand why a young Black woman would think it was a good idea to go for a walk alone at night knowing that there’s a serial killer chilling somewhere in her neighborhood. At another point, she has an inkling of who the killer is and instead of her staying home to make a smart, methodical plan to take him down, she goes dancing?
There was only one thing about the writing, itself, that bothered me and that was the repetition. Two things popped up a lot throughout the book:
This phrase: “she pulled herself up to her full height,” and how often Louise mentioned that her dad didn’t want her around.
I would have loved to see more character development for Louise, as well as her girlfriend Rosa Maria. I’m sure we will see more about them in the next book of the series.