Dead Dead Girls (A Harlem Renaissance Mystery)

Written by Nekesa Afia
Review by Trish MacEnulty

Louise Lovie Lloyd is a reluctant hero. In 1926 Harlem, she’s living the good life, working at a cafe during the day, dancing all night as the “sweat rolled down her back,” and loving her girlfriend when no one is looking. The last thing she wants is to get involved in solving the murder of a series of Black teenage girls. But there’s no escaping it. She has had a reputation for heroism—ever since she survived a kidnapping and rescued several other girls in the process. If this sounds like an exciting premise for a novel, it is.

Louise gets dragooned by an overbearing detective into helping the police, but she’s got two other reasons to want to stop the Girl Killer: her twin sisters who are just the wrong age, sixteen. The rest of her family is no help, but fortunately, she has friends and a lover who are willing to help her solve the case. Even a racist cop becomes her ally. Ultimately, however, this is her battle, for her past has come back to haunt her.

An author in her twenties, Afia’s writing invokes past eras from noir to hard-boiled detective stories to the urban fiction of the 1990s. She has incorporated these traditions into her own unique style that propels the story forward with an addictive, engrossing rhythm. Setting the story in Harlem with its speakeasies, cafes, rooming houses, abusive cops, and corrupt preachers heightens the tension and enhances the story’s allure. This book is not about racism, per se, but, as members of two oppressed groups, Black women suffer from a double bind in our society, and Afia makes that fact abundantly clear.