“Carved in Bone: A Henry Rios Novel” by Michael Nava

Nava, Michael. “Carved in Bone: A Henry Rios Novel”, (Henry Rios Mystery Series),  Persigo Press, 2019.


Amos Lassen

 Set in November, 1984, Criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios, now out of rehab begins putting his life back together. He takes a job as an insurance claims investigator and is assigned to investigate the apparently accidental death of Bill Ryan. Ryan had come to San Francisco in the 70s along with so many other gay men to find a better gay life. It seems that he died in his apartment by carbon monoxide poisoning from a faulty gas line. Ryan’s younger lover almost died as well. his young lover barely surviving. Rios is convinced that Ryan’s death was no accident as he reads about how he arrived frightened and a teen and then transformed into a successful businessman. Keep in mind the year and its relationship to the AIDS epidemic. As Rios searches for the truth about Ryan’s death, it becomes the search for the meaning of Ryan’s life while the country is in the grips of an epidemic with the power to wipe us out..

I’ve missed Henry Rios and it’s good to have him back (It’s been 20 years).  But this is Bill Ryan’s story and reminds us that being gay in the 1980’s was not always a pleasure tour. I see Ryan as one representing the many others like him and what it was like to be gay at such a time.

We see gay life through the eyes of Harry and Bill and we see what it was like coming out, being discriminated against and the hope of finding someone to love and to love us back. I admire Michael Nava’s ability to bring together a harrowing time in our history with the rise of LGBTQ activism so if you are expecting a love story, forget it. Nava resurrects the attitudes of the time making me wonder how we ever lived like that. There are two other points here— we have a Latino major and minor character and a look at two different strands 0f Catholicism. Henry and Bill also share they have both been addicts—-Henry with alcohol and Bill with both drink and drugs.

The beauty of the novel is how it is written; it is emotionally intense and it reflects the fears we shared during AIDS. Nava doesn’t just pull us into the story, he yanks us in. There was no way I would be moving until I finished the book. Because it is a mystery, there is not a lot I cannot share. I can tell you that the themes involve
child abuse/disowning, alcoholism, domestic abuse, and personal degradation, and dying. These are important to the overall story and it is a read that you will not soon forget. 

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