Book Review — Harlem Sunset by Nekesa Afia

I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book from Netgalley and Berkley Books. This has not impacted my rating and this review is voluntary.

  • Genre: Mystery, Detective Novel
  • Published by: Berkley Books
  • Publish date: June 28, 2022
  • Number of pages: 304 pages
  • Author’s website: https://www.nekesaafia.com/
  • Support local! Buy the book on BookShop!

A riveting Harlem Renaissance Mystery featuring Louise Lloyd, a young Black woman working in a hot new speakeasy when she gets caught up in a murder that hits too close to home…Harlem, 1927. Twenty-seven-year-old Louise Lloyd has found the perfect job! She is the new manager of the Dove, a club owned by her close friend Rafael Moreno. There Louise meets Nora Davies, one of the girls she was kidnapped with a decade ago. The two women–along with Rafael and his sister, Louise’s girlfriend, Rosa Maria–spend the night at the Dove, drinking and talking. The next morning, Rosa Maria wakes up covered in blood, with no memory of the previous night. Nora is lying dead in the middle of the dance floor.

Louise knows Rosa Maria couldn’t have killed Nora, but the police have a hard time believing that no one can remember anything at all about what happened. When Louise and Rosa Maria return to their apartment after being questioned by the police, they find the word GUILTY written across the living room wall in paint that looks a lot like blood. Someone has gone to great lengths to frame and terrify Rosa Maria, and Louise will stop at nothing to clear the woman she loves.

Rating: 2/5

I wanted so much from this book and it didn’t deliver.

What I wanted:

  • Specific historical references 1920s Harlem like performers and the clubs (not just made-up ones)
  • An honest reflection of how the Black and queer folks viewed America and why becoming an ex-pat was a choice for many. I do think Nekesa Afia did a great job at showing the queer struggle but the discussion of race was lacking
  • Varied sentence structure. After reflection on why this story dragged on — there are several reasons, but the main one was that it was boring reading the back-to-back simple sentence structure of subject-verb-object. I also thought that the introspection of the main character was repetitive throughout the novel without new insights each time. It left me really struggling to finish the book.

I genuinely enjoyed the first book in this series and was disappointed in the follow-up. I think it was a stepping stone for what’s to come in this series so that leaves me hopeful that we see the heroine re-find her spunk.

Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to know!

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