Title: Carved in Bone (Henry Rios Mystery #2)
Author: Michael Nava
Publisher: Persigo Press
Release Date: October 1, 2019
Page Count: 272
Reviewed by: Kristin F.
Heat Level: 1 flames out of 5
Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
November, 1984. Criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios, fresh out of rehab and picking up the pieces of his life, reluctantly accepts work as an insurance claims investigator and is immediately is assigned to investigate the apparently accidental death of Bill Ryan. Ryan, part of the great gay migration into San Francisco in the 1970s, has died in his flat of carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas line, his young lover barely surviving. Rios’s investigation into Ryan’s death – which Rios becomes convinced was no accident – tracks Ryan’s life from his arrival in San Francisco as a terrified 18-year-old to his transformation into a successful businessman. What begins for Rios as the search for the truth about Bill Ryan’s death becomes the search for the meaning of Ryan’s life as the tsunami of AIDS bears down on the gay community.
Note from the author: I am author of a series of mystery novels featuring Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer that were originally published between 1986 and 2000. Reviewers and readers immediately recognized that the Rios novels were mysteries with a mission. As the Los Angeles Times observed the books “were faithful to the conventions of the genre but set apart by their insight, compassion and sense of social justice.” The original series won six Lambda Literary Awards for gay mystery.
I’ll start by noting I have not read any of the previous books in the series – this can be read as a standalone book.
This is not a romance per se. There is no HEA. This is the story of one man, Bill Ryan – representing many gay men – who finds himself in San Francisco and how he coped. This is a sober look back at what it was like to be gay in San Francisco in the 1980’s during the AIDs epidemic.
This is the story of Henry Rios, who finds himself investigating of the death of Bill Ryan. Through the eyes of both men, the reader is taken on a heart wrenching journey of coming out, being kicked out, what it meant to be gay in San Francisco in the 1980’s, and the hope of finding someone to love and to love us back.
This story packs so much between the pages – The author adroitly incorporated generational attitudes, which gave the book and story an interesting view. That our main character and a sub-character are Latino (different generations and presumably all raised Catholic) which is not a viewpoint frequently seen. Addiction has a significant role in this book, as Henry is working through being an alcoholic and Bill Ryan with his need to punish himself through degradation, drugs and drink.
The mystery isn’t so much of a mystery to the astute reader, but it’s how the author flowed between Henry and Bill that matters. It’s watching everything unfold. The reader is pulled in and tossed along in the rapids with all the other characters until the books resolution.
For the most part I enjoyed this book – I had to skip a very small part of the opening scene as it was a bit emotionally intense, but it is important to establish the setting. I think it also helped that I remembered the fear that swept the nation in the 80’s AIDs epidemic, and to see it from a different – older – perspective gave weight to the overall story.
This book won’t be for everyone. There are definitely some triggers – child abuse/disowning, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and personal degradation, and dying. But these are integral to the story, integral to the world of Henry Rios, and overall, this was a very powerful story.