Afia, Nekesa. Harlem Sunset. New York: Berkley Prime Crime, 2022.
ISBN-13: 978-0593199121 | $16.00 USD | 286 pages | Historical Mystery
Named a 2022 People Magazine best book of the summer!
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.
In the series
Harlem Sunset is the second book in Nekesa Afia’s Harlem Renaissance series. It’s a self-contained case, so it can stand alone, but I do feel that readers would benefit from reading in order and being familiar with the character dynamics, as they do play a big role in this installment.
Louise has come up in the world somewhat since the end of the last book, being in a happy, if clandestine relationship with her partner Rosa Maria, and managing the Dove, which is owned by Rosa Maria’s twin brother, Rafael. But she’s still dealing with the trauma and ghosts from her past as Harlem’s Hero, and she can’t even enjoy a simple birthday celebration with another of the survivors of her kidnapping years ago without incident. And the case is even more deeply personal, because the killer attempted to frame Rosa Maria, which puts strain on their relationship. While Louise doesn’t have any doubts about Rosa Maria’s innocence, I enjoyed how the accusations provided new stakes for them to work through.
I also liked exploring more of Louise’s family dynamics, from her complicated relationship with her father to the dynamics with her sisters, and how they are shaped by the loss of their fourth sister, Celia.
The mystery is once again pretty compelling, and I actually think the personal connection made the story work a lot more, given that the intertwining of the personal with the mystery impacted the pacing of book one in a somewhat negative way. But as a result, this book felt like a punchier, faster read, with well-executed and incorporated intimate and personal moments.
This is a solid second installment, and I am eager for more in the series, as well as anything else Nekesa Afia writes. If you’re looking for a compelling sapphic historical mystery with Black characters, I recommend picking this one up!
Twenty-five-year-old Nekesa Afia recently finished her undergrad degree (bachelor’s in journalism, with a minor in English) and is a publishing student. When she isn’t writing, she’s dancing, sewing, and trying to pet every dog she sees. The Harlem Renaissance Mysteries is her debut series.
Bookshop (affiliate link)