Death of a Dancing Queen By Kimberly G. Giarratano: Review/Giveaway/Interview

Feb 18, 2023 | 2023 Articles, Kathleen Costa, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Kathleen Costa

This week we have a review of the debut mystery adult novel Death of a Dancing Queen by Kimberly G. Giarratano, along with an interesting interview with Kimberly. Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of the book, and a link to purchase it from Amazon.

Death of a Dancing Queen: A Novel By Kimberly G. Giarratano
Review by Kathleen Costa

Belinda, “call me Billie,” Levine is twenty-four years old, lives at home in the attic room, struggles with her brother David to care for their mother diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s, and works as an unlicensed private investigator in her grandfather’s firm, Levine Investigations. Her grandfather, William Levine, is a thirty-year veteran cop having been a PI for another twenty years before officially retiring. Billie works under his license and supervision out of the back booth at Nagel’s Deli where her grandfather often holds court with his cop friends reliving stories tainted with braggadocio and drink. Her dad left with a woman half his age, so he’s little help with her mother’s illness and the resulting debt and conversations about needing outside care that adds to the financial burden. Billie, therefore, can’t be picky about the clients she’ll accept since business is business and threats are threats. It is a far cry from having a BA in English, but she relishes the freedom self-employment affords. Of course, the good always partners with the bad.

Death of a Dancing Queen Earns 5+/5 Diamond Jewelry… Compelling & Intense Gem!

It’s 1991, and Starla Wells fingered the jewel hanging from her neck. It was her ticket out of the strip joint in which she worked and into a place of her own. She had dreams. She wasn’t just a floozy with a manufactured figure. But, the shadow, the argument, and the knife brought nothing but darkness and an end to her dream.

“30ish years later …”

Tommy Russo, a rehab failure showing all the signs of needing a fix soon, real soon, wants to hire Billie to find his girlfriend. He’d been given Billie’s name by Nicole Mercier from Kentwell College, where he lives and may or may not regularly attend classes, and since Billie trusted her friend enough and the kid surprisingly had the upfront retainer, she started preliminary case notes: Jasmine Flores, Honduran, document status unknown, no obvious drug habit, partners in a true crime podcast, and employed as a stripper at the Malta’s Club. Billie hopes Jasmine is just ghosting Tommy, but she’s not discounting a possible ICE detention, an escape to visit family, or Tommy just setting up a defense in her disappearance. But, while having a quiet drink with her friend Detective Esteban Morales, she learns a body has been discovered. It’s Jasmine. It’s murder.

Billie had already discovered many curious connections that by themselves could be evidence of motive. Jasmine and her friend Nuri O’Brien, dubbed The Murder Girls, research murders from current headlines to decades past, then present their details and conclusions on a podcast. Several articles were found in Jasmine’s college room which included a thirty-year-old death of a stripper who had worked at the same joint as she: coincidence? The Malta’s Club is owned by the Goff family well known as a criminal organization and well known by the Levine family since both Billie and David dated the Goff brothers, Aaron and Matthew respectively. Jasmine also had tried to get Tommy into rehab, again, but his family was resistant, against the relationship due in part to her ethnicity, and suspicious she’s only out to capitalize on the Russo family’s fortune. Tommy’s addiction had him running afoul of the Torn Cross Neo-Nazi group whose base of operation just happens to be where Jasmine’s body was discovered. Are these just random details or did any of this result in Jasmine’s murder? or Will Billie’s snooping put her and others in serious danger?

PI Gem! Kimberly Giarratano grabbed my attention with the first chapter and didn’t let go as she weaves details of a murder in which Billie becomes deeply embroiled and one from long ago with direct and indirect connections to a Jewish crime family, the Torn Cross Neo-Nazi group, and a very wealthy family experienced in getting what they want. Setting the drama in New Jersey highlights the dynamic within communities that tend to be similar to that of small towns with their close knit perspectives where the criminal element often lives right down the street from those trying to protect and serve. Lives overlap through business and personal relationships which adds a fascinating and complicated element. The victim”s story creates its own questions that adds another layer to the investigation: her interests, her family, her passion, her involvement in many groups on campus. The intricacies of the details, the often “oh, my” revelations and connections, intense predicaments, and additional felonies uncovered made this a “couldn’t put down” experience, and a candidate for my top reads of 2023.

Giarratano’s writing has an entertaining style with descriptive language, a third-person narrative, and a no holes barred depiction of this community with its language and adult themes. Billie is a strong-willed, intelligent young woman with a reasonably solid moral compass; she, like many of us, lives with more gray areas than just black and white, and this dilemma is an engaging element. The family dynamic, too, is realistically portrayed with each family member struggling with their own lifestyle choices, addictions, disappointments, and desires, and including the devastating impact to the family when a loved one is shackled with Alzheimer’s adds a fascinating layer to the drama. I like a little romance or sexual tension in my mysteries, too, and in Billie’s life there are two, but obviously opposites with some factors that don’t fair well for a long-time connection: the “bad boy” may be too bad for a girl looking to champion right and the “good guy” has a good guy focus that may step on her toes and kill the mood. It’s totally compelling and highly recommended!

Be a Big Fan of Kimberly G. Giarratano!
Kimberly Giarratano writes mysteries for both adults and teens. She started with Grunge Gods and Graveyards, winning kudos as 2015 Silver Falchion Award for Best YA, then a prequel to that book, The Lady in Blue, a two-book Cayo Hueso Mystery Series with murder and mayhem in a haunted Key West hotel, and several short stories to meet every interest.

Facebook: KG Giarrantano, Author
Website: Kimberly Giarratano

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying year 2 of retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband of 26+ years.

Interview with Kimberly G. Giarratano:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Kimberly: It sounds so cliche to say, ‘my whole life,’ but really, I have been! I wrote a short story in the second grade about a superhero called “Super Flower.” I penned my first book in the third grade when the teacher assigned us to write a take on Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I wrote for my school newspapers in middle school, high school and college. I wrote a senior honors thesis on Jewish farming schemes in 1920s Mexico. I wrote fanfiction. I’ve just always ‘wrote,’ you know?

Kimberly G. Giarratano

KRL: When did your first novel come out, what was it called, and would you tell us a little about it?

Kimberly: My first novel, Grunge Gods and Graveyards, was published in June 2014 by Red Adept Publishing, a month after I gave birth to my daughter in the back of my car (true story). Set in 1996, Grunge Gods is the story of a 17-year-old girl who tries to uncover the murder of her boyfriend who is haunting her. It’s a genre mash-up of paranormal romance, crime fiction, and plain ol’ nostalgia. Also, each chapter begins with a song from the era, which makes for a killer playlist.

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense and if not, what else have you written?

Kimberly: I have! All of my books are mysteries at their core. Four have paranormal elements – I’m really into ghosts. School Lies is a crime fiction young adult novel set in 1995. I also love the nineties, as you can see. I enjoy a good puzzle. It gives my characters something to do while they figure themselves out.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

Kimberly: Death of a Dancing Queen, my debut adult novel, is set in Bergen County, New Jersey (the northeastern section that borders New York). I grew up in Monmouth County, New Jersey – the central part that people forget about – but the suburban sprawl just didn’t seem to have that hard-boiled/noir vibe I was going for. I had spent a lot of time in Bergen County in my youth, and I just felt North Jersey provided me with the aesthetic I wanted. It’s Manhattan-adjacent, rich in some parts, blue collar in others, and “hella” diverse.

My protagonist, Billie Levine, is a 24-year-old college graduate who takes over her grandfather’s private investigation business so she can care for her mom who has early-onset Alzheimer’s. Like me, Billie is Jewish, and also like me, she is the daughter of nurses. I wanted to explore what it is like for a young person to have to parent their parent while also trying to start their own life.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to experience from your work?

Kimberly: I always write to entertain myself first, but I also write because I have something to say. I’m particularly interested in writing main characters who are routinely underestimated. I pay close attention to politics, so I like to explore corruption and abuse of power in my work as well.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just work whenever you can?

Kimberly: Whenever I can.

KRL: What is your ideal time to write?

Kimberly: Morning.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Kimberly: I outline like my life depends on it. I use Excel to plot and Scrivener to write. This means my books are structurally sound, but man does it take forever to get to ‘The End’ because I have to figure out the entire story before I draft.

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Kimberly: Yes and no. When I had started querying Grunge Gods and Graveyards, I got two full requests from agents – one who flat-out told me that paranormal YA was too saturated for my book to stand out, and another who never responded. This was in 2012, 2013. So, I started submitting to small presses and got picked up by Red Adept Publishing. They still publish great books today, although not YA. My next book, Dead and Breakfast, won a Kindle Scout contract; I got an advance for that. I self-published my next two because I wasn’t sure I had the patience to query again, but then I got a referral to Liza Fleissig, whom I adore. She took me on as a client and stuck by me as Death of a Dancing Queen took nearly two years to sell. We kept hearing that female-led private eye fiction didn’t have a market. I intend to prove those editors wrong!

KRL: Oh interesting–I am with you I do not agree with that at all. Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Kimberly: None of my rejections feel so great, even in hindsight. Getting acquired by Datura Books has been the crowning achievement of my career so far.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Kimberly: I don’t have one as of yet, but the year is young.

KRL: What are your future writing goals?

Kimberly: I want to finish two drafts this year – Billie Levine #2 and a secret project that I am super excited about.

KRL: Who are your writing heroes?

Kimberly: Because I got my start writing young adult, and I was a young adult librarian, I will 100% lay down my life for author Holly Black. She is lovely and from New Jersey. In crime fiction, I adore Chuck Hogan, Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Kimberly: For my previous books, I had to do a lot of historical research, which I love since I have a degree in history. I’ve written books set in the 1950s, 1920s, and 1990s. I love searching through the New York Times archive. For Death of a Dancing Queen, my research tends to be more geographical – making sure I’m accurate on how long Billie is going to sit in traffic.

KRL: What do you like to read?

Kimberly: Private eye, historical mysteries, young adult, speculative fiction. I’ll read anything.

KRL: What are your favorite TV shows or movies?

Kimberly: I am a huge TV watcher. I’m really into international crime dramas and my husband and I love spy thrillers – check out Slow Horses! Apple TV is putting out some great shows. I can’t wait for new seasons of Ted Lasso and Severance. For experiences that are uniquely Jewish, you can’t go wrong with The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

KRL: Have you any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Kimberly: Pick apart good books and see how they are put together.

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Kimberly: I gave birth to my daughter in the back of my minivan, but you would have already learned that in the answer to a previous question. Long story short, she and I were both fine. Everything worked out. Also, I’m a southpaw. That’s always surprising to folks. Don’t know why.

KRL: Do you have any pets?

Kimberly: A dog, Trevor. He’s a mix of Chow and Shepherd – German? Australian? I don’t know! He’s a rescue and easily the most chill creature in our entire house. He’s also super handsome. If he was a person, he’d be George Clooney.

KRL: Is there anything you would like to add?

Kimberly: If you love Death of a Dancing Queen, please tell everyone, but if you don’t like it, just don’t tell me!

To enter to win a copy of Death of a Dancing Queen, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “queen,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen February 25, 2023. U.S. residents only, and you must be 18 or older to enter. If entering via email please include your mailing address in case you win, it will be deleted after the contest. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast where mystery short stories and first chapters are read by actors! They are also available on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. A new episode went up last week.

You can use this link to purchase the book. If you have ad blocker on you may not see the Amazon link. You can also click here to purchase the book.

Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. Sounds interesting! Count me in!

  2. Life throws us lots of hurdles.
    Do anything to overcome them.
    sounds like a good read.
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  3. Sounds
    Like an interesting book. Looking forward to reading it.

  4. The title alone caught my eye. aprilbluetx at yahoo dot com

    • I enjoyed the interview and the review. My interest is definitely piqued, thank you for the opportunity to win a copy of Death of a Dancing Queen.

  5. We have a winner!


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