An incredible sequel!

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Last year, I read an ARC of Lavender House and really fell in love with the characters, plot, and writing. Since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the sequel, The Bell in the Fog, and I'm pleased to say this lived up to its predecessor splendidly. This is a historical fiction mystery with many noir-style vibes and a cast of characters that really sets it apart from other books in its genre.

The Bell in the Fog brings us right back to Andy Mills' new life as a private detective, and this time we spend much more of our time in the bright and vibrant world of gay bars in 1952 San Francisco. Andy is all set up with an office above the Ruby, and although he does get some cases here and there, he has yet to fully earn the trust of many of the patrons the regularly visit the gay bars in the city, and his business is suffering as a result. One night, a figure from Andy's past shows up with a case of blackmail for Andy to work on, and with this case comes not only direct danger to Andy's life, but also a plethora of mixed feelings that rise back to the surface as he deals with more past memories.

Rosen excels in crafting characters that are full of personality and easy to imagine being real people. I really enjoyed getting to know Andy and his background in the first book, and I appreciated the opportunity to get back in his head and build upon everything that was shared and occurred in the first book. Andy has a lot of demons to deal with, and it's extremely satisfying to watch him slowly overcome many of these obstacles in order to help himself continue to move on and into his new life. I particularly liked watching him essentially learn how to interact with a variety of bar patrons and endear them to him, a hard feat given his previous life as a cop that didn't exactly stand up for any of the gay bars or queer people in the city. He also struggles to find his footing in a place where he's already technically been "accepted," but now feel immense pressure to prove his worth and dedication. Andy is a very genuine person who spends much of his time thinking not just about the past, but how he can make it up to both himself and his community going forward, and I think this sequel handled those topics excellently.

In addition to Andy are a variety of additional characters that fully bring this story to life. We have the Ruby's endearing bartender, Gene; Lee, a regular performer and Andy's new girl Friday, Lee; the patron behind Andy's new gig, Elsie; and so many more! We meet so many interesting characters, from those who are immediately friendly to those who are much more standoffish and harder for Andy to get to know, and it's this huge variety that really lets the story feel exciting and like you never really know what to expect.

The 1950s San Francisco setting is also executed with deftness and a clear interest in the time period on the part of the author. I have really appreciated getting a deeper look into the queer scene in San Francisco at this time and the many, many struggles that it faced on a regular basis. In contrast, I also liked that we got to see the opposite of that, as well. Namely, that we got to see the life, the happiness, and the joy that still existed in these spaces by those who refused to hide and chose to live their lives as best as they could, and it's this vein of determination that is really what this book is about.

Overall, I've given The Bell in the Fog 4.5 stars! I can't recommend this enough to anyone who enjoy a great noir-style mystery, a brilliantly rendered historical setting, and/or some characters that you don't want to walk away from.