Book Review: “Dead Dead Girls” by Nekesa Afia

We’re playing catch-up here, so you’re not going to find a First Impression Friday post by me regarding this book. Truth be told, I read the book on the plane ride to and from New York City, so I wasn’t exactly in a position to write a FIF post for this book anyway.

From GoodReads:

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. She’s succeeding, too. She spends her days working at Maggie’s Café and her nights at the Zodiac, Manhattan’s hottest speakeasy. Louise’s friends 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–several local black girls have been murdered over the past few weeks. After an altercation with a local police officer gets her arrested, Louise is given an ultimatum: She can either help solve the case or let a judge make an example of her.

Louise has no choice but to take the case and soon finds herself toe-to-toe with a murderous mastermind. 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.

It’s so disappointing how predictable this book was, and how immature the main character is. Louis Lloyd is 26 years old, but she reads like she’s a hot-headed teenager. Even though she lives in a halfway house by herself (after being kicked out by her religious father when she refused to play the miracle daughter after her kidnapping), she’s so immature and blind to the ways of the world that it’s honestly stunning. She’s had to scrape and survive by herself for almost ten years and she has absolutely no common sense to show for it!

It’s also painfully obvious from the get-go who the “Girl Killer” is, and the book continuously tries to play it off with, Oooh, who could it possibly be? Certainly not this person that we have all the evidence pointing towards, nope, there’s no way it’s them! Louise has someone die right in front of her and it never crosses her mind that the man could have been poisoned (he was literally foaming at the mouth), and the only other person around is the person who ends up being the Girl Killer. It’s so boring. And Louise’s moves through the whole thing are also predictable, and if there really was a serial killer out there (like there is!), they’re going to predict exactly what she does and move against her in every way, which is what the killer does. And then Louise is shocked that the killer figured out her plan? Say it isn’t so!

The pacing is also incredibly awkward in the book. The author will spend pages describing something (like Louise getting drunk with her friend, Rosa Maria), and then the literal climax of the book is just a few paragraphs long (if you don’t include the monologuing by the villain), and the resolution is maybe two pages, at most. It’s a frustratingly rushed ending to an otherwise okay-ish book, and it just makes the author seem lazy. It’s got all the hallmarks of one of those “cozy mystery” books and none of the flair that could possibly set it apart as anything else. You’d think that a book set in 1920s Harlem would have more to it, but there’s barely any characterization of anybody past “we’re alcoholics who like to party at night” and there’s barely any setting to speak of. There is no reason this book was set in the 1920s – it could easily have happened in modern times and nothing would have been lost.

In short, I’d give this story 2/5 stars. It tried, and there was something with the characters for just a brief moment (her friend the bartender is interesting, at least, even if Louise herself is a dolt), but the plot is a choppy, predictable mess. If you want to read a forgettable popcorn-y cozy mystery book, pick this one up. Otherwise, I’d find other ways to spend your time.

What do you think of books that miss their mark? Do you finish “predictable” mysteries or do you give up because there’s better books out there? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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