Archive

Posts Tagged ‘lavender house’

Book Review: Lavender House by Lev A.C. Rosen

November 14, 2022 Leave a comment
Image of a digital book cover. A woman's silhouette reveals 1950s style purple wallpaper. Rabbits run across it. Some of them are bleeding.

A 1952 noir-esque mystery — but everyone from the detective to the murder victim to most of the suspects themselves are part of the queer community.

Summary:
Andy was just fired from the San Francisco police department after he was found in a compromising situation in a gay bar’s bathroom. He’s having one last night of drinks before throwing himself into the bay when a woman shows up asking him to investigate the murder of Irene Lamontaine – the matriarch of the Lamontaine soap company. She wants Andy to do the job because it turns out Irene was a lesbian, and almost everyone in her home is queer. A secret they have to keep if they want to remain an empire.

Review:
All I noticed in the blurb I saw was that this was a queer Knives Out. I somehow missed the historical part. I loved Knives Out but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of period appropriate homophobic content in this one.

This book is authentic to its time period. It doesn’t gloss over homophobia whatsoever. We witness one brutal gay bashing (literal gay bashing) and two other characters reference their own beatings. This is a world of bribes and secrecy from society such that even the happy characters can never be fully happy. Be prepared for the realistic depiction as you go into it.

The family Lamontaine consists of Irene and her partner Pearl. They have a son Henry. I can’t remember whose biological son he is. He has a partner named Cliff. He’s legally married to a woman named Margo who has her own partner Elsie, who is bisexual and runs a queer bar. Margo’s straight mother Alice begrudgingly lives with them. They have a butleresque character who is also gay, as well as another sapphic couple who run the kitchen and garden. They all get to be themselves inside the Lamontaine house but never outside of it. Irene was found dead in the perfume library. The family and coroner rule it a fall, all with the exception of Pearl who suspects foul play. She found out about the recently outed cop and figured he could be their private investigator without risk of outing them all. The characters feel like a lot but are actually easy to keep track of.

I appreciate that there was a bisexual character. I wished that there was more diversity. There was one Filipino bar tender and a rival soap company run by a Jewish family. With all the rampant homophobia being depicted, I was honestly shocked that racism didn’t come up. It would certainly have been period appropriate to, for example, even allude to issues like redlining or racist responses to the Korean War. If one was completely unaware of history coming into this book, one could have left it thinking the only issue of tolerance and acceptance in the 1950s was sexuality. (For a queer book that does explore racism in San Francisco in the 1950s, check out Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club).

Please also note that there is a scene where some rabbits are killed. I don’t think this is a spoiler as it’s alluded to on the cover. I wouldn’t have asked for the book at all on NetGalley if I’d been able to see the full cover as it’s rendered now, because I have a personal love for rabbits so that was distressing to me. One of the characters is depicted as having a drinking problem that they are told to snap out of. This is never followed up on in a way that implies the drinking problem is fine now. This isn’t how a drinking problem works. I found this to be a flawed and misleading depiction of alcoholism that was used as a plot device.

The mystery itself was kind of ho-hum. I suspected who did it from the get-go and was proven correct. The solution seemed….more than a bit obvious to me, honestly. If you’re curious, take a guess in the comments, and I’ll respond with if you’re right. Ultimately though for me I wanted this book to swing more fully into one direction or the other. Either to go full period piece and get into all the nitty gritty or move it into the present and just make it fun.

Overall, if a simply mystery set in the 1950s with a mostly queer cast facing an intolerant society appeals to you, then you should give this one a go.

If you found this review helpful, please consider tipping me on ko-fi, checking out my digital items available in my ko-fi shop, buying one of my publications, or using one of my referral/coupon codesThank you for your support!

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 274 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or Bookshop.org)