Carved in Bone: A Henry Rios Novel
by Michael Nava
Reviewed by John Francis Leonard
Six-time Lambda Literary award winning author Michael Nava returns with another mystery featuring defense attorney Henry Rios——one that’s not only a satisfying whodunit, but a rich piece of social history. He brings to life the gay community of the fabled seventies in San Francisco as well as the tragedy that unfolded there in the early eighties. San Francisco represented a new life and a new kind of family for so many men shunned and cast off by their families for being gay, and gay life indeed blossomed on its shores.
For no one is this more true than the recently deceased man whose life and death Rios is investigating as a part-time insurance fraud investigator for a firm he was referred to by his dear friend and AA sponsor. This book tells two stories, the story of Rios’s investigation and the complicated story of Bill Ryan who has named his surviving young lover the beneficiary of a large life insurance policy. A tragic gas leak in the wealthy, self-made Bill Ryan’s apartment has killed him and not AIDS, like so many of his brethren. Rios initially suspects Bill’s lover, Nick, but the truth becomes more complex, the more he uncovers.
Nava also brings us a rich narrative set in an unforgettable city at a historic time. He peoples it with unforgettable characters who often surprise and never bore. He brings the city of San Francisco and its history alive to the reader and, surprisingly, lived in L.A. in the era of his remarkable tale. One would never guess that he was not living there during this colorful time that he renders so lovingly.
But with the good times came tragedy close on its heels. San Francisco was a front line in the plague that ravaged it and its residents, and Nava touchingly and reverently captures the era. Familiar to many and a lesson in our community’s history to others, this novel is yet another moving tribute to all that was lost. It’s not the primary subject matter, but is dealt with with skilled and sensitive depth. But first, and more than anything, this novel is a fascinating mystery, slick, smart, and even erotic at key moments. It’s simply a fascinating and richly entertaining story told by a phenomenal storyteller. That’s what great novels do, they tell stories, but when an author can also bring history and life lessons to the page, it’s something more, something richer and more satisfying.
John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for fifteen years. His fiction has been published in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he is a literary critic for Lambda Literary. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.