Lavender House is a gripping story about identity, truth, morality, and murder.
LAVENDER HOUSE BY LEV AC ROSEN
"There's no place for us to be happy in a society that doesn't want us."
Highlight for TW: This book has period-typical homophobia that sometimes results in violence.
Disgraced investigator Evander (Andy) Mills is trying to lose himself in the bottom of a bottle when he's approached by a wealthy woman, Pearl, in a bar. It turns out she wants to hire him to solve a case - the mysterious death of Irene Lamontaine, the owner and head of a soap empire.
I have the audiobook version of this novel, and the narration is absolutely stunning. It would be easy for the narrator to fall into sounding like a parody of the era, but instead, the main character's gruff, gravelly voice and cadence transport you back to the 1950s. Equally impressive was the distinct voicing of all the characters that Andy meets. It felt immersive and like I was listening to a full cast. (As someone who usually has to do other things and up the speed for an audiobook to keep my attention, I found myself sitting and doing nothing for two hours while I fell into the world of the Lamontaines'.)
The story itself is very layered. On the surface, it's a murder mystery, but really, it's a commentary on human nature, queer identity, and class politics. We watch Andy not only navigate his complicity in unjust systems, but also his newly revealed identity. We see him struggle with his own internalized biases and the "what ifs" of his life. I loved the subtle way that each character was explored. There was a complexity to all of them, no sterility of "goodness" or outright evil. They were just people caught up in an event and acted in kind based on their personalities. I loved that the book took on topics like this in a way that didn't feel heavy-handed or preachy.
The fun of whodunits is generally figuring out who did it. This is true of this novel, but without giving too much away, it was the motive that really hooked me. I won't say that you can't see the end coming, but there was an authenticity there that I'm glad the author didn't shy away from.
A super enjoyable read, and I hope to read about more mystery-solving escapades of Andy Mills in the future!