In Afia’s debut, Dead Dead Girls (Berkley Prime Crime, June.), Louise Lloyd, a Black former showgirl, reluctantly helps police hunt a serial killer in 1920s Harlem.
What inspired this book?
I wrote it for National Novel Writing Month in 2016. I had just finished writing a romance, and I wanted to challenge myself, so I decided to write a mystery. I was watching a lot of Prohibition era–set TV, and I was also studying that period in my history class, so I was like, “I love this era! I’m going to write a Prohibition-era mystery!”
What made you decide to set the book in Harlem?
I love the Harlem Renaissance—it was this period of growth, and art, and music, and fashion. That post-WWI generation had such brilliance and creativity, and they were so alive and fun even though they had just gone through a war, and the world was a mess. They managed to figure out what they wanted to do, and do it on their own terms, and I think that’s so inspiring.
What was it about Louise Lloyd that made you feel you needed to tell her story?
I read a lot, and something I didn’t get the luxury of growing up—and even still kind of now—was seeing a main character who looked like me. I love mysteries, and I love puzzles and putting things together, but I couldn’t find a really good mystery series I liked with a BIPOC protagonist. And I was like, okay, well, if I can’t find one, I’m gonna write it.
The 1920s were a difficult time to be female, Black, or queer. Louise is all three. Can you talk a bit about how her identity shaped the book’s plot?
She has to find who’s killing these young Black girls who are exactly like her sisters. She’s been through a lot, and she knows the world has kind of failed her, and she doesn’t want to fail anyone else—she wants to make sure all the girls are safe, and can live their life, and be who they want to be. She wants the world to be a better place, specifically for Black women. She also has to keep part of herself secret—she can’t tell anyone about her relationship or she’d go to jail. There’s a lot of pressure on her, especially because she grew up in a strict household, and there’s so many ideas of who she should have been, and what she should have done, but she rebelled against all of them. So, I think most of the story is her trying to find her way, and trying to figure out who she is.