Sunday, January 8, 2023

Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

 by Lev A.C. Rosen
 Release Date: October 18, 2022
 2022 Forge Books
 Kindle Edition; 274 Pages
 ISBN: 978- 1250834225
 Audiobook: B09QB3YN7W
 Genre: Fiction / Mystery / Historical / LGBT
 Source: Review copy from publisher

 3 / 5 Stars

 Lavender House, 1952: the family seat of recently deceased matriarch Irene Lamontaine, head of the famous Lamontaine soap empire. Irene’s recipes for her signature scents are a well guarded secret—but it's not the only one behind these gates. This estate offers a unique freedom, where none of the residents or staff hide who they are. But to keep their secret, they've needed to keep others out. And now they're worried they're keeping a murderer in.

Irene’s widow hires Evander Mills to uncover the truth behind her mysterious death. Andy, recently fired from the San Francisco police after being caught in a raid on a gay bar, is happy to accept—his calendar is wide open. And his secret is the kind of secret the Lamontaines understand.

Andy had never imagined a world like Lavender House. He's seduced by the safety and freedom found behind its gates, where a queer family lives honestly and openly. But that honesty doesn't extend to everything, and he quickly finds himself a pawn in a family game of old money, subterfuge, and jealousy—and Irene’s death is only the beginning. 
My Thoughts
Lavender House follows Andy Mills as he accepts a private investigator job after being fired from his detective job with the local police force after being caught in a compromising position in a gay bar.  Being set in the early 50's, I was looking forward to learning more about the scene during that time period, but I found the book to be somewhat bland and conservative in its dealings, with a cast of characters that were pretty one-dimensional and a mystery that was quite predictable.  
I definitely like the setting as the idea of a group of people living together who can feel free to express themselves sexually was intriguing and I liked how they were able to keep this secret from the outside world while building up a huge soap company.  It did set up this nice in-house mystery and yes, I tend to gravitate towards those type of scenarios.  But I also want a twist to my mysteries, and this one was very predictable.  The author tried, but the twists and turns were more about isolating the main characters and relying on angst and resentment than clever plot twists that are witty and charming, along the lines of Agatha Christie or even Knives Out.  In those works, you have these eccentric detectives, and although the author tried to present Andy this way, it didn't work out.  I would have liked Andy to have found his own voice as I found him interesting.
The plot itself was fairly predictable, as I've already mentioned.  I just felt like the author wanted to delve much more into the politics of the time, but was afraid to do more than skim the surface of what was really happening during this time period, and I was a bit disappointed in this. I don't think this book was supposed to be a cozy mystery, but it gave off those vibes.  I don't necessarily think it was lack of research as the author seemed to have a pretty good grasp of things during the time period, but was maybe afraid of alienating his readers? I don't know, but I would have liked a more in-depth understanding of what it was like for people who identified as LGBT during this time period. I did appreciate the growth of the main character, Andy, as he dealt with the loss of his job and the struggles he faced with trying to figure out what to do after being fired from a job he liked and excelled; however, he never really formed any real friendships with the men with whom he worked for fear they would discover his secret and not accept him.  
Lavender House is the start of a new series, and I do think it has potential. I did find the mystery to be fairly predictable, and except for Andy, the characters were pretty much one-dimensional, but there were some moments that did grab my attention and gave me hope that the author would delve more deeply into the complexity of the LGBT community in the 1950's.  If you are looking for an okay mystery, characters who have good intentions but tend to struggle with communication issues, and you are looking for a focus on queer relationships without explicit scenes, this one may be right up your alley. However, I wanted more. I was looking for something grittier, juicier, something that had more of an emotional impact and that is why I was left feeling a bit disappointed. 


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