Genre | Mystery Historical Fiction
Page #s | 274
Publishing Date | October 2022
A delicious story from a new voice in suspense, Lev AC Rosen’s Lavender House is Knives Outwith a queer historical twist.
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.
When your existence is a crime, everything you do is criminal, and the gates of Lavender House can’t lock out the real world forever. Running a soap empire can be a dirty business.
Sometimes you don’t even realize a genre needs a queer spin until you suddenly read a book that makes you think, “Oh, this is perfect!” That was Lavender House for me. Telling a murder mystery set in the 1950s from the perspective of a queer cop-turned-private-investigator gave new meaning to many tropes. Why is the PI so jaded? Because he’s a newly outed gay man who lives in a homophobic society and risks daily harassment or worse! Why is the location he’s hired to work in strangely remote and isolated? Because it’s a found family of queer people who do their best to avoid the attention of the outside world! It all makes sense.
Rosen is a very engaging storyteller. Where the other book of his that I’ve read (Camp) was lighthearted, Lavender House is darker but no less propulsive. I really admired the way he told a story focused on queer people but in a way that felt historically accurate. As for the mystery itself, the hints and twists were fun. Not, to my mind, groundbreaking or entirely surprising, but the story told along the way made up for a so-so reveal.
As in any murder mystery, the cast of characters makes or breaks the story, and I loved the characters in the Lavender House estate. Whether family or staff, each person on site has a story or secret that could be motivation for murder. I especially liked seeing how gay men, lesbians, and people of varying ages found a way to make peace with their voluntary self-isolation and closeted public existences.
This is apparently the first of a series, and I cannot wait to see more Evander Mills solving gay crimes. Very fun twist on a classic genre.
Who Do I Recommend This Book To?
If you like a quick murder mystery or enjoy reading about queer people surviving in different time periods, check out Lavender House!
Check out our Queer Lil Library for more book recommendations and reviews!
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