I don’t know how to feel about this book, but also it was utterly compelling and hard to put down. When Andy is caught with his pants down in a gay bar, he feels like his whole life is over – he’s lost his job with the San Francisco police department, lost his housing, and knew the cops who caught him intended to spread his truth so he’d never get a job again. But before he can follow through on ending things, Pearl offers him an opportunity to investigate what she believes to be the murder of her wife. Everyone else in the family believes it was just an accident, Irene just fell, but Pearl is certain it was murder, and now Andy must figure out which person living in their isolated home would do such a thing to the head of the family.
In so many ways this is a story of the complexities of family and how messy interpersonal dynamics can be. Everyone, except Margo’s mother, is queer and finds in the Lavender House a space where they can be open with their affections and their identity, not fearing repercussions when kissing their love. But as freeing as living there is, it also comes with bars and restrictions because the ultimate tenant of the house is that the outside world cannot know so that they remain safe. That means fake marriages and careful stories about who people really are, and sometimes that can be suffocating.
This started rough for me, but at the same time I was curious and intrigued by all the characters. There’s several really great parts where Andy has to come to terms with how his being part of the police force made him a participant in the harm and violence against queer people, even if he wasn’t the one doing the beating or arrests. There’s also themes of chosen family and the communities people build, and how much truth is shared in which communities and how that impacts the community feelings.
I think I did like this book and the mystery was well done, and I definitely recommend it you want historical queer fiction with a murder mystery.
Update 9/14/23: I had a chance to read the sequel, The Bell in the Fog; here’s a link to that review (which I definitely recommend picking up!): https://cannonballread.com/2023/09/the-bell-in-the-fog-lb/