Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Review: The Bell in the Fog (Andy Mills #2) by Lev AC Rosen


The Bell in the Fog (Andy Mills #2) by Lev AC Rosen
Forge Books
Publication Date: October 10th, 2023
Hardcover. 272 pages.

About The Bell in the Fog:

"The Bell in the Fog, a dazzling historical mystery by Lev AC Rosen, asks―once you have finally found a family, how far would you go to prove yourself to them?

San Francisco, 1952. Detective Evander “Andy” Mills has started a new life for himself as a private detective―but his business hasn’t exactly taken off. It turns out that word spreads fast when you have a bad reputation, and no one in the queer community trusts him enough to ask an ex-cop for help.

When James, an old flame from the war who had mysteriously disappeared, arrives in his offices above the Ruby, Andy wants to kick him out. But the job seems to be a simple case of blackmail, and Andy’s debts are piling up. He agrees to investigate, despite everything it stirs up.

The case will take him back to the shadowy, closeted world of the Navy, and then out into the gay bars of the city, where the past rises up to meet him, like the swell of the ocean under a warship. Missing people, violent strangers, and scandalous photos that could destroy lives are a whirlpool around him, and Andy better make sense of it all before someone pulls him under for good.

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. 

*I received a copy of The Bell in the Fog courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review.*

Buy the book: Amazon | Bookshop.org

1 comment:

  1. I never got around to reading Lavender House, but I'd love to binge both books now😁