When Andy Mills is outed and kicked off the police force in 1950s San Francisco, he doesn’t think life has much left in store for him. Then he’s approached by a rich woman who wants him to investigate the murder of her wife. Intrigued by her willingness to openly use the word wife, Andy accepts the job and is taken to Lavender House, where he discovers what seems to be a safe haven – a queer utopia fortified by money and thick walls. But there lies the trouble: If Lavender House is so safe, only someone on the inside could have committed the murder. Discovering the killer will inevitably shatter the illusion of family; leaving them to stay in the shadows will rot the family from within.
This is a very different kind of book than I normally read. It’s very hard-boiled private eye historical fiction, with a queer twist. I saw the book on the recommended shelf at a local indie bookshop, and was intrigued. My library had the e-audiobook available, so I downloaded and began to listen.
The book was good, kept me guessing all the way through, didn’t hold back when it came to describing the horrific treatment of queer folks in the time period, did a marvelous job of adding richness to the theme of found family. At the same time, I don’t see the book really sticking in my memory or holding any longterm place in my heart. I didn’t personally connect with the narrator, and because it was written in first person, all the other characters were filtered through his eyes. I guess I felt about it the way I feel about Sam Spade movies – fun to watch/read in the right mood, and not really my kind of thing on the regular. Doesn’t make it bad, just doesn’t make it great-for-me.
On the other hand, I applaud Rosen for what he did here, and for setting this up as a potential longterm private eye series. I like that he didn’t stay away from the realities of the time, even set in this utopia-like house. Maybe it’s just because this is out of my personal comfort zone, but I’ve never read anything like it, and I think it has potential to be a trailblazer.
Performance: Vikas Adam read the audiobook. It was my first experience with him, and I admit, it was not my favorite narration. I don’t know how much was Adam, and how much was the genre, but it sounded like he was reading to play up the hardboiled detective aspect. I didn’t like the voices, and I could not tell any of the women in the house apart. That last bit may be just because I was editing photos while I listened to the first half of the book, so my brain was divided, but even after that, I often had no idea who was who by voice. However, I’m willing to try Adam again in a different genre, to see if it’s just his style or the style he specifically chose for this book.