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Harlem Sunset by Nekesa Afia: John C Adams Reviews

Book name: Harlem Sunset

Author: Nekesa Afia

Publisher: Berkley/Penguin

Format: Print, ebook, audiobook

Genre: Murder mystery

Publication Date: 2022

Star Rating: 4/5

Harlem Sunset is the second ‘Harlem Renaissance Mystery’ murder mystery, the first being Dead Dead Girls.

Louise Lloyd is about to turn 27. She works as a bar manager at a speakeasy owned by her girlfriend’s twin brother.

Louise is still recovering from having shot Detective Theodore Gilbert. This took place at the end of Dead Dead Girls.

I haven’t read that novel, so I was a little worried that I might not be able to follow Harlem Sunset.

Fortunately, the plot is entirely self-contained. The only piece of information we need to know to make perfect sense of Harlem Sunset is that Louise has shot and killed Gilbert.

While the police are satisfied with Louise’s explanation that this was self-defence, we don’t yet know what the wider reaction will be.

Louise’s birthday night appears to be a success with her friends and girlfriend celebrating with her in her apartment.

The couple are charged more in rent by their racist landlord taking advantage of them as women of colour. Despite this, they have carved out their own space to be together.

However, Louise wakes up the next morning alongside her girlfriend Rosa Maria and their guests. They are all lying on the floor.

Rosa Maria is covered in blood and a bloody knife lies beside her.

Beside them is the dead body of their friend Nora.

They have all been drugged and none of them can remember anything about what has taken place.

Louise is able to negotiate a stay of arrest with Detective Martin in return for agreeing to solve the murder.

None of them believe that Rosa Maria killed Nora. What possible motive could this gentle soul have for killing anyone?

However, the police aren’t immune to an easy conviction, especially with the murder weapon right there next to Rosa Maria.

Louise is pursued by a young woman purporting to be a fledgling journalist. She reluctantly agrees to discuss the death of Detective Gilbert with Harriet, a decision that she will later come to regret.

I loved Harlem Sunset. Louise’s work to solve Nora’s murder was only a part of the story because lots of it was about her relationship with Rosa Maria and her continuing struggles with her father and sisters.

Louise was a lot more fully formed as a character than the detective in many murder mysteries, but there was plenty of narrative space for both strands. There was so much depth to her, and I rooted for her from the beginning.

The speakeasies of Prohibition America provide a vivid backdrop for murder mystery fiction and are a great choice of setting.

Thank you for reading my review.

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