With the horrors of the summer and the Girl Killer behind her, Louise Lloyd is eager to usher in her 28th year with her girlfriend and best friend by her side.
When Nora Davies, one of the girls Louise was kidnapped with, reintroduces herself, Louise is wary to connect. By the next morning, Nora will be dead, Rosa Maria Moreno covered in her blood, and no one can remember what happened.
With Rosa Maria's freedom on the line, Louise must get to the bottom of Nora's death before time runs out.
Set in Harlem in the late 1920’s, Harlem Sunset by Nekesa Afia brings to life the vibrant nightlife, jazz music, dancing, and cultural awareness of the times. It’s not just a historical mystery, but also the journey of protagonist Louise Lloyd as she comes to terms with who and what she is.
Louise is the new manager of a club owned by her friend Rafael Moreno, the brother of Louise’s girlfriend, Rosa Maria. As they are set to celebrate Louise’s birthday, Nora Davies joins them. Nora and Louise were two of the girls kidnapped a decade ago. Louise, Rafael, Rosa Maria, Nora, and Eugene (Rafael’s boyfriend) spend the night drinking and talking, but eventually fall asleep. When they awaken, Nora is dead, and Rosa Maria is covered in blood. Did Rosa Maria kill Nora or did someone frame her?
The author does a great job on characterization, providing not just a physical description, but gradually showing readers their shortcomings and strengths. Louise is a likeable but flawed character. She has a need to know the truth, is nonjudgmental, tends to joke in uncomfortable situations, tends to ignore things she shouldn’t, and suffers from PTSD from her earlier events including her kidnapping. She also was the main caretaker of her three younger sisters as they grew up. Louise is a dynamic character who changes and grows as the story progresses. The supporting characters had a variety of depths appropriate to their roles.
This story captivated me from the very beginning. The author brought the characters and the cultural lifestyles of the times and place to life. The plot is multi-faceted, and the conflicts move the story forward with twists and turns that gradually builds momentum.
The author does a great job of world-building. I was able to easily visualize the settings, the people, the clothing, and the homes. The atmosphere felt right for the times resulting in a strong sense of time and place. She effortlessly weaved themes of family, friendship, lifestyle, loneliness, the treatment and expectations of women, domestic abuse, grief, and murder into the plot. My only quibble is that the story slowed down too much in a couple of places.
Overall, this book was an engaging, captivating, suspenseful, and enjoyable historical mystery and character journey. I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series. While this novel is the second in the series, it worked well as a stand-alone. However, reading the books in order would enhance the reading experience. Readers that enjoy character-driven historical mysteries will likely enjoy this series.
Berkley Publishing Group and Nekesa Afia provided a complimentary digital ARC of this novel via NetGalley. This is my honest review. Opinions are mine alone and are not biased in any way. Publication date is currently set for June 28, 2022. This review was originally posted at Mystery and Suspense Magazine.
----------------------------------------------- My review will be posted during the week prior to publication (per publisher's guidelines).
I don't know if this series is going to have more books in it, but I'm done. The first book Dead Dead Girls was fine. I didn't love it but I didn't hate it and I was interested enough to read this book. But Harlem Sunset just wasn't it.
The things I liked: 1. The 1920's setting was great 2. Fox Schoonmaker. I needed more of him 3. Getting more of Louise's family dynamic 4. It's a quick read.
Things I didn't like: 1. Louise's girlfriend Rosa Marie. She's boring and has no personality 2. Louise's naivete 3. The fact that Louise trust everybody she's ever met 4. Just like in book 1, as soon as the murderer appeared I knew they were the murderer and this time I knew why they did it
It's really sad that I didn't enjoy this series. I really wanted to but I just don't think this series or this author is for me.
Disclaimer #1: I adore this author and consider her a friend. Disclaimer #2: If I HAAAATED this author and wanted to punch her in the face, I would still LOVE this book (which would piss me off, so I'm glad I like her).
Lou is back, being just as spectacularly Lou as in DDG. This tired, tiny lesbian is at it again and I have missed her so much! Just as smart, just as clever, just as deadpan with the dry wit. She's begrudgingly solving crime again, this time to save Rosa Maria, and she is fierce and fabulous and everything I want to be.
Afia is masterful at capturing Harlem in the twenties, sweeping the reader away to the glamour. The fashion, the language, the clubs - her worldbuilding is lush, while at the same time authentic. I don't know that much about this period of history, but I never doubted a single detail of this amazing book.
I must go now, and re-read DDG so I can re-read Harlem Sunset.
This book. Oh, how I love this book. I will list the reasons and before I am finished you will have clicked “buy.”
One, the writing. I am a fool for rhythmic, stark prose. Afia does not clutter her passages with anything more than what she needs to center the reader then punch them in the gut. Gorgeous and gives me chills.
Two, Lou. Oh, Lou, you tiny, tired lesbian. How I adore the way your brain works. Lou is older and wiser only in drips and drabs in this installment. Afia doesn’t coddle her amateur sleuth, instead, she challenges her with a world always spinning off it’s axis and I loved watching Lou navigate through life with dry wit and an enormous heart.
Three, the setting. Harlem in the twenties. The clubs, the clothes, the slang – I wouldn’t want to live back then but Aafia does an excellent job of putting me there in this book.
Four, the plot. I gave up trying to guess who did it in mysteries a long time ago. I am just along for the ride, and I deeply enjoyed this one. Lou’s girlfriend is framed for murder and the resulting fallout is nail-bitingly compelling and wildly entertaining in the way that good mysteries can have you cringing and lunging forward at the same time.
Afia has penned another winner and I cannot wait for the next in the series.
The sequel to Nekesa Afia's Dead Dead Girls in which Louise Lloyd manages to bring a serial killer to justice. Set in Harlem in the 1920s, Louise is the now the manager of a dance club owned by the brother of Louise’s girlfriend, Rosa Maria. To celebrate Louise’s birthday, a group of her their friends are drinking the night away, eventually falling asleep. Early the next morning, one of the revelers is dead, and the cops want the perp. Once again, they bully Louise into helping because white cops cannot get any cooperation in Harlem. Meanwhile, a persistent reporter manages to convince Louise to speak with her when she has refused all prior approaches. When they share an unexpected moment, Rosa Maria breaks up while Louise longs for her lover, but has to solve the murder. Sadly, the killer was too easy to discern for readers, Louise learned nothing from her last case (as naive as ever), and the magic of Harlem lost its luster in this one.
This is the second book in the Harlem Renaissance series, and note that I have not read the first one. Louise Lloyd is back and I want to point out that I did not feel lost in reading this out of order but clearly she is established as the main character so no set up had to be done. The book is set in 1920s Harlem New York, where being a young queer black woman is clearly illegal and so Louise has to hide who she is, all while trying to solve a murder she is the prime suspect in. I enjoyed this one, the writing was well done and I liked how the author put the character through all of the situations but she held her own throughout. This is not quite a cozy mystery in my opinion but is not a psychological thriller either, it is more in the middle of the two and as I said, the characters had depth which I loved. I'm glad I read this one and am curious to go back and read the first one in this series now.
I also listened to this one via audio and it was very well done, I enjoyed it this way and would recommend the audio if you can do it via this medium.
Thanks for the free audiobook PRH Audio! And thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Books for the digital copy to review.
Jazz Age reluctant detective Louise Lloyd is back, and she's better than ever. HARLEM SUNSET follows Lou and her crew through the harrowing aftermath of the Girl Killer case, which has very real repercussions for their mental health and their physical safety. The book deals honestly and thoughtfully with the fallout of trauma and depression, while at the same time delivering a high-stakes mystery that leaves the reader second-guessing every secondary character. Here, the consequences of trusting the wrong stranger are very real, and some mistakes can't be undone, no matter how much the characters long to. With brisk prose and enough dance numbers in smoky clubs to satisfy any 1920s enthusiast, HARLEM SUNSET is a highly satisfying second installation of a standout mystery series.
Thanks to the author and Berkley for providing a review copy!
3.5 Stars rounded up I fully enjoyed the world building but not the mystery so much🤷🏾♀️ None the less this is a captivating escape to Gilded Age Lesbian Harlem. I own the digital book and borrowed the audio book from Hoopla.
Thank you Berkley and PRH Audio for my review copies.
After reading and unexpectedly loving Dead Dead Girls, I’ve been highly anticipating this book!
This story focuses on Louise’s personal journey and growth from previous events. We are introduced to some of her family members and I appreciated the backstory. The story also touches on how Louise couldn’t be free when it came to her sexuality and her relationship with Rosa Marie. As a Black woman she already had two strikes against her so she had to stay in the closet and you could feel her internal struggles with it all.
As far as the mystery goes I was able to figure out the killer and the motive was kinda predictable. Overall it was still an enjoyable read and hopefully there will be another book!
This follow up to Dead dead girls didn't have quite the same panache as the original but I did still really enjoy returning to 1920s Harlem New York and Louise's evolution as a young, queer Black woman. The murder mystery kept me guessing til the end and overall it was an enjoyable listen on audio!
I listened to Dead Dead Girls (book 1) last year and really enjoyed it, so I was excited to get a copy of HARLEM SUNSET from @berkleypub last month!
Second books tend to be a little rough for me for the most part. I didn’t love this one as much as the first, but I did enjoy getting to know the characters a bit more. The 1920s New York setting definitely shined through - this book will make you want to dance the Charleston all night at the speakeasy.
After a certain point in a book I get tired. Particularly in a novel where there is a murder to solve, I am single minded- WHODUNIT. I’m seeing a lot of litfic +murder that seems marketed as a mystery but is really about the main character’s personal journey and… that isn’t what I thought I was getting from the blurb.
Much like book 1 in the series, I got to about 60% and started skipping around. I was uninterested about anything but solving the murder (except whomever was breaking in to let Louise know they think she’s a killer) and lemme just say- this is fiction so the author is free to take license but there is no setting in Harlem in the early 1900s in which a woman who is not Caucasian wakes up in a room covered in the blood of a dead woman and is able to talk herself out of being arrested and ALSO cuts a deal to find the real killer, especially considering she isn’t law enforcement. The disbelief I had to suspend to pull myself through this book is… it’s just too great. I cannot, and continued to cannot through the entire book.
I have no issues with Afia’s writing and the skilled story telling is what kept me going. The story itself, from the premise forward, does not grab me. I feel that there are scenes added to wrap around the ‘whodunit’ to make the book longer when all I really care about is who murdered Nora.
Though I do feel the want from the characters to live their lives to live her life as openly in the street as they live in their apartment, the addition of a lesbian relationship and the trials within again seems added to give the story heft.
I suppose I am more single minded and linear but I’m always thinking…..what does this have to do with the plot of the book?
It didn’t hit for me but did for others I’ll be happy to be in the minority.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
3.5 stars. Picking up some months after “Dead, Dead Girls” Nekesa Afia shows the costs the events in the previous book have had on Louise Lloyd. Though now living in a different apartment with her girlfriend Rosa Maria, and managing the club owned by Rosa Maria’s brother Rafael, Louise is definitely suffering mentally and physically from her kidnapping years earlier and the pain she underwent in the previous book.
That’s not to say that Louise wasn’t already having problems in her life without all the trauma: she tends to ignore things in her life she shouldn’t, cannot not help someone or try to figure out a problem, and is too naively trusting, all of which cause her problems with Rosa Maria, particularly as Louise immediately jumps into investigating when a murder occurs at Rafael’s club and Rosa Maria is accused.
Louise deals with a nasty cop we met in book one, and makes an interesting, wealthy acquaintance, and has to deal with her deeply unforgiving and unpleasant father, all while author Afia gives us more of a vibrant Harlem.
This book, though a murder mystery, is also about Louise finally beginning to get a better idea of who she is, and maybe what she wants. I hope Afia gives us more Louise Lloyd.
A great second book in the series! I thought the mystery was a bit obvious. However, the characters were fantastic as always. Lots of interesting subplots! The ending of this punched me in the gut with how everything wrapped up. Excellent historical fiction read - very interesting!
What unfolds is series of very personal, targeted attacks. The more she investigates the more her life and safety unravels. And frankly the more I got annoyed. The villain with a grudge, especially one with personal ties to the main character is one of my least favorite tropes.
What kept me reading was the historical setting and Louise's own self awareness. She's as annoyed by the situation as I was as a reader. But she also finds herself in a situation like Blanche White — completely aware she's in danger and being played, and not able to do much about it.
Harlem Sunset follows up Dead Dead Girls, taking us back to 1920s Harlem, where Louise Lloyd again finds herself in the crosshairs of a mystery and a murderer. It follows closely on the heels of book one, wisely asking us to consider the hovering miasma of trauma around Louise after the life-or-death situations she confronted. The mystery has important subtext, and the author keeps a steady eye on how Louise's identity as a Black queer woman influences her experiences and investigation. Unfortunately, the narrative felt like a step down from its predecessor.
In terms of Louise's detecting, it's a disjointed plot: people just automatically share information or Louise happens on clues without needing a lot of cleverness or moxie to get there. The readers don't get to know her thoughts and unravel them with her. Random characters are introduced without fanfare and removed just as fast. They lack depth or even momentary flair, just names that come and go. The identity of the murderer is glaringly obvious, both on the basic level and when it comes to the big picture of who they are, so there isn't a feeling of intrigue to keep things mysterious.
The meaningful conversations started around Louise's personal life muddying the thread of the investigation while not getting anywhere themselves. There are seeds of a story about Louise's problems with her family that are planted and then abruptly solved or abandoned. The thing I found most frustrating in terms of her character is that despite Louise's earned wariness from her experiences, it still feels like she trusts everyone she meets, or puts her life in others' hands even if she doesn't trust them. It lands her in some bad situations that don't even seem to have much potential upside compared to the risk.
A couple trigger warnings that will be spoiler-y, so proceed with that in mind: There is a cheating plot. There is a public outing in the news as part of a revenge plot, including personal photos taken without permission. Louise then faces religious-based homophobia within her family, has to publicly deny the claims that she is a "deviant" to protect herself and her girlfriend, and feels chased out of her home. These sections were hard to read, so take care of yourselves, alphabet mafia.
I wish I had better feelings toward this book, which has an impressive premise. But in its execution, I found the negatives outweighed the positives for me.
I was really hoping the plot and character development issues would improve from the first book. There was not a real flow in Harlem Sunset, an enormous amount of walking through NYC, but not a clear reason why or where Louise was going. Most parts were choppy and underdeveloped. I still like the concept of Louise & becoming a detective, but the problem is she doesn't seem to figure things out herself, they just seem to happen to her until it's overwhelmingly obvious.
The things that I hope would set this apart (queer, POC, 1920s Harlem) fell short. The language felt excessively anachronistic. And the writing is very YA with its foreshadowing (“she would never forget this moment”) and attempts at cliffhangers.
While I don't think I can ever get used to this writing style, as I prefer something more complex and detailed, I will say it has enough of everything else to draw me in and keep me there. I like all the characters (the main trio is nicely fleshed out, and I LOVED Schoonmaker), and the 1920s setting is nicely played in without being overdramatic (except perhaps the slang at times). As a (soon-to-be) historian, it didn't feel at all like a drag trying to picture myself in the correct time period and place. I love the author's first and last chapters and the use of present tense. It feels very effective, as did the parallels of Emily/Harriet arriving from England and Louise leaving for Paris.
Louise is a good mystery protagonist; she kind of just sucks, which is how it should be, because she never stops learning. (Sucks like a real human, not as a character, obviously.) I want to read more of her adventures, but it's so depressing seeing her face so much death that I somehow can't see her having any more?? But since this is only the second book (and the last chapter definitely insinuates more detective work) I'm sure there must be more and I await it all eagerly. That said, I'm sad about her and Rosa Maria. I thought they would reunite in the end and it felt very upsetting that they decided to give each other up as their first loves. As a narrative choice I don't have an opinion one way or the other, though.
I guessed the killer pretty quickly, but it was set up perfectly well and I felt very satisfied in being right (I didn't put much thought into the killer for the first novel, and I don't often guess the correct conclusion of mysteries, especially not ones written by Agatha Christie). The climax was maybe a bit rushed/odd=sounding but I like the build-up more in mysteries anyway.
AND ANOTHER THING... I think Laura Cameron (Gilbert's ex-love) should have been introduced earlier in the novel and been more of a maternal figure for Louise as she was in that single scene. It would have been really important to her, and worked narratively in my opinion, since everything Louise does is for family (specifically Josie).
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Harlem Sunset by Nekesa Afia Berkley Publishing Group, Berkley
Black speakeasy manager Louise Lloyd investigates a murder too close to home in 1927. An OwnVoices histfic gem, with beautifully developed characters and a plot that won't let you go. Named a People Magazine best book of summer 2022.
3.5/5 ive given 4 when it was barely 3.5 to worse books w bigger audiences
im honestly kinda sad this is a 3 star read 😭 i remain hopeful for further installments tho i fully believe that due to the quick succession this had to dead dead girls the author did not rlly take in the previous book's critiscism and proceeded accordingly bc this suffered from the first book's predictability and more since the interest in the initial premise and potential of this series kind of wained off. maybe it kinda suffered from 2nd book syndrome in that way it failed to live up to the "what it could be."
id be lying tho if i said i didnt enjoy it for what it was and i loved louise she's such a leo i initially had her pegged as an aqua sun sag rising bc the fire energy was there but she wanted to live too outside of the society but yea makes sense and the kind of youthful naivete like as an outside reader i kind of felt frustrated at points w how obvious it was and how much she should just, like, not trust ppl but still shes only 1 year into this "business" and she's not yet accustomed to it- she just fell into it she's not a hardboiled detective and i have high hopes that as the series progresses we are gonna see her learn how to grow more into it while keeping true to herself.
i loved how the gay relationship felt natural and it rlly satisfied that irk i felt w so many period gay romances where its constantly in your face about how progressive they are and its just super unnatural to how they would actually be like the writing was far from uhh masturbatory 😭
in a sense if u want a gripping mystery thats gonna have u taking notes and connecting the dots this is not it- the series could build into smth like it for sure but it's not there yet. if u want a historical fiction w like more of a thriller instead aspect (there's not rlly a question as to who did what and why in either this or ddg) and a sort of personal story this is it. also i was kinda disappointed seeing as how little development louise had from the first story as a person it seemed like she kept going back to where she was all along- she did do a lot of character development in this book tho. while the first story was more static and set the scene and the characters this one was the first step to get louise to where she could be!
I started this book a bit after reading the first. The first was an all new subject in a variety of ways.
That book was good, this one was better. So much so that I read it in only a few hours.
Louise is a wonderful character who is complex, thoughtful and very real. She’s aware of the bad stuff but also is aware of the need to put it out of your head. She’s understanding of everyone’s plight and cares deeply for those who she loves.
This book was such a fun read. It wasn’t completely a mystery, lots of hints dropped even in the very beginning. Especially if you recently read the first book. But that didn’t take any of the fun away.
The ending wasn’t exactly what I expected and I’m curious as to where Louise is going next.
I won this book in a giveaway but it didn’t change my opinion of the work. It’s worth the 5 stars.
This book was slower than molasses. I didn't really get into it until I was about 75% done and that's because the first part was just a running checklist of why everyone in the Lloyd family needs therapy. I did not like this as much as Dead Dead Girls and honestly if there is a third book I will probably just pass on it.
I was really hopeful that this book would be better than the first one, but sadly I was disappointed! The strange use of “time period” language was so rough and cringy. Again, Louise does a lot of drinking and dancing and really bungling the whole “clue finding” process. Why pick such a terrible character to be the one to solve the crimes?!? She SUCKS at it!! If any more books are added to this series I will NOT be reading them.
I’d give this like 2.5 stars. I enjoyed the authors writing style, but the plot was a little bogged down for my taste. I found myself skimming most of the pages by the halfway point and the big reveal at the end just wasn’t worth the build up for me.
How this book got on People magazine's top Summer books for 2022 is beyond me! I found it hard to understand and boring. I read to find out why People magazine liked it so much, but never did understand the appeal!