September 28, 2023

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

Four Star ARC Review: Smoke and Key by Kelsey Sutton- Out 4/2

Welcome to the world of Under, where you aren’t dead, but you aren’t alive either. Not zombies. People that arrive at various states of decomposition depending on when they wake up after burial and fall through the ground to just below the ground.

Thank you to Entangled Publishing and NetGalley for an Arc in return for a fair review.

Kelsey Sutton uses the setting of Smoke and Key as a character in itself. Under’s dirt, shadows and darkness to emote a mood. The tavern can bring a light and glimpse of life when necessary. The torches that provide light waver and give to provide foreboding.

Key arrives in Under not remember anything about who she was when she begins meeting the rest of the residents of Under. Each, like herself, named by a singular item that comes with them to Under from their coffin. Smoke (named by the cigar that comes with him, but he doesn’t light) is the first person she meets that introduces her to the world of Under. Soon she finds Doll and Ribbon- the “voice of reason” and longest known resident of Under.

No one remembers anything of their lives before death although they have knowledge of the world. As Key inquires more about wanting to remember her past life she is shut down and told it is an exercise in futility. She needs to accept her new reality and shown how the residents of Under have made a life there a good one.

However, when unexplained and final deaths begin to start plaguing the citizens of Under, Key realizes that a murder spree began with her arrival. As waves of memories from the life she knew before begin to flood her mind Key comes to a startling revelation. If she doesn’t reconcile her past before Under, she may be the next to die, if not be accused of murder, herself.

With the one object she brought with her from the life she once knew, Key sets out to find the truth. As her other life forces her way into Under a mystery unravels that makes it harder to know who she can trust and who is the puppet master in Under.

Dealing with themes of grief, pain, loss and unrequited love, Smoke and Key entwines the consequences of unresolved conflict with the ability to be at peace with the decisions and paths we choose in life.

It is a smooth and easy read that builds two different mysteries simultaneously. The suspenseful murder mystery in Under growing more tenuous as Key’s memories of a life she once knew are slowly pieced together like a puzzle.

How they collide is crafted together by Sutton in a stunning fashion that changes Under forever and keeps the reader hanging throughout the book.

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