‘Lavender House’ a refuge from the outside world until death shatters freedom – Sun Sentinel

“Lavender House” Leaf AC Rosen. Forge Books, 288 pages, $26.99

Lev AC Rosen broadcasts the old private eye novel and the mystery of a locked room while presenting a tense, character-driven story about gay life in 1952 San Francisco at “Lavender House”. As the search for a killer lays the foundation for “Lavender House,” Rosen delves into homophobia, the need for connection, and the secrets that motivate the believable characters in this historical mystery.

Evander “Andy” Mills has always wanted to be a policeman, and at the age of 32, he had grown into a skilled inspector for the San Francisco Police Department. That ended when he was caught during a raid on a gay club. Not only was he fired, he was blacklisted from being a policeman again, kicked out of his apartment and mocked by his former police colleagues, whom he considered his friends. Remember, “Lavender House” is set in 1952, not 2022.

Believing he has no future, Andy contemplates suicide when the Pearl Phillies offers him some kind of redemption. Pearl wants him to investigate the death of Irene Lamontane, who was head of the famous and lucrative soap empire. He was surprised that Pearl called Irene her “wife,” because he had never heard anyone call their same-sex partner, “as if that were the most natural thing.” Pearl believes that Erin’s fall from a staircase was a murder, not an accident at the family mansion on the Lamontane manor.

Erin loved creating the unique floral scents for her soap brand, especially using lavender to make Lamontene soaps special. Their home was called Lavender House, after the huge gardens, and it is filled with family and friends who have become family.

Rosen sculpts fully realized characters – Pearl and the son of Erin Henry, his partner Cliff; Henry’s legal wife, Margo, and her partner Elsie; and three employees. Everyone who lives in the Lavender House, including the staff, is gay, except for Margo’s mother, Alice, who runs the house. None of the residents, especially Pearl, want to believe that Eren was killed because it would mean that a family member was murdered. The intruder was unlikely.

Rosen skillfully compares the freedom of Lavender House to the outside world. On the land of the estate, residents can safely show with their partners affection that they deny in society. In public, residents run a successful business, maneuver among the community, attend high-ranking functions while keeping their private lives a secret.

The house activates Andy, who tried to keep his sexuality “invisible” to others. Andy knows about families – his family, the military, the police force. Families in which I cannot be myself, and I do not openly love here. Even with murder. . . It’s kind of a beauty,” he says. Andy begins to accept his sexuality, believing he can make a future for himself. But for at least one resident, the freedom on the estate is overwhelming, like prison.

Each character’s personal struggles are expertly presented. As in most families, there are quarrels, pettiness, and annoyances punctuating each day, but there is also pure and unconditional love and acceptance that elevate the “lavender house.” Rosen leaves the door open for what will be a welcome sequel.

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at olinecog@aol.com.

Lev AC Rosen will discuss “Lavender House” with author Dan Chaon during a virtual event starting at 7 p.m. October 19 on Crowdcast by Books & Books at Coral Gables. The event is free but registration is required. visit booksandbooks.com/event to get information.

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