Great story but subpar mystery

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Real Rating: 3.5 / 5 Stars

You know, I’ve been seeing reviewers comparing this novel to “Knives Out”, and I honestly can’t see any resemblance between the two besides the two properties both being closed-loop mysteries involving the head of a wealthy family being murdered. Other than that, I can’t think of them being anything alike. So if you want to take this reviewer’s opinion into consideration when looking to read this novel, I can tell you (as a huge “Knives Out” fan who watches it all the time) that if you’re looking for a book that’s similar to that movies, then “Lavender House” is not it.

That’s not to say that “Lavender House” doesn’t have its own charms, though I don’t seem to have fallen in love with the book as many other readers and reviewers have. It’s a closed loop mystery in the style of Agatha Christie and her detective Hercule Poirot, but with some of the pulp charm of hard boiled noir detectives like Raymond Chandler’s Sam Spade. By this, I mean that the mystery and setting themselves are closer to Christie, but the detective himself is like a queer version of Sam Spade… or maybe queer Sam Spade just as he started up his PI business.

I’ve got a great deal of love for old dogs that are taught new tricks in our glittering world of literati: when we take the old tropes, genres, and more and breathe new life into them using the issues, themes, and conflicts we face today. What this book shows us, in a way, is that we faced these issues even back when Raymond Chandler was writing Sam Spade novels, but some of those issues more than often had even more life-threatening consequences back then than they do now. Consequently, it’s only now that authors can write novels using those genres and tropes to showcase those dangers without facing the end of their careers or worse.

“Lavender House” has a great story to tell and great lessons to impart about queer love in mid-century America and a little about queer history in San Francisco, but the mystery itself is where the story fell flat for me. It’s not that I could guess who was the killer; it’s rather that I didn’t much care. I ended up being much more intrigued about the family, the detective, and the other characters than I did about the mystery death at the heart of the book. I’d say you have a huge problem if your reader doesn’t care about the mystery in your mystery novel.

I still recommend it, because the glimpse of what it takes to live a queer life in 1950s San Francisco is really worth it.