Monday, May 20, 2013

Goldenboy and How Town, Two by Michael Nava

"You have a call."
Opening to
by Michael Nava
Henry Rios, attorney for the defense, has a habit of taking hopeless cases, cases with defendants who are certainly guilty.  He takes these cases as favors for a friend or for his sister, intent to provide the best representation his clients can hope for.  It's his dedication to this principal, that everyone deserves representation no matter how guilty they look or how guilty they actually are, that leads him to fight for his clients until the end, when he finds them innocent, at least innocent of the crimes they are charged with.

In Goldenboy, Henry Rios has a young client who was found in a locked room with the murdered victim, the murder weapon, a knife, in his hand.  That the accused claims that he can remember going down into the basement room and waking up with the bloody knife in his hand, but that he has no memory of what happened in between or of committing the crime at all.  Everyone, the police, the accused's friends and co-workers, even Henry Rios, thinks he did it--no one else possibly could have-- and that once he gets his memory back they'll be able to figure out his motive.

No one suspects that he can't remember the murder because he didn't do it.

In How Town, Henry Rios goes back to his home town in rural California, to represent the husband of his sister's friend.  The accused is an admitted pedophile, the victim a known child pornographer who may have been involved in a blackmail scheme or possibly child trafficking.  While no one would call the defendant 'innocent',  Henry Rios believes that he did not commit this murder.  To many details just don't add up.  And it's Henry's belief that no one should be punished for a crime they did not commit, no matter how horrible a person he may be.
The road to my sister's house snaked through
 the hills above Oakland, revealing at each
 curve a brief view of the bay in the glitter of
 the summer morning.
Opening to
How Town
by Michael Nava

In my review of the first Henry Rios novel, The Litle Death, I commented on how surprised I was to find no mention of AIDS in a mystery with a gay detective written in the mid-1980's.  I imagine the circumstances of taking a book to print simply put The Little Death on paper before AIDS became the topic of every conversation at least in the Gay community in California, because it's all over the place in both Goldenboy and How Town.  AIDS hits home for Henry Rios right away, too.  In Goldenboy, Henry falls in love with Josh, a 22-year-old sometime college student who is briefly a suspect.  The two move in together by the end of the novel even after Josh tests postivie for HIV.  In How Town, Josh is fighting the disease, undergoing treatments and dealing with the early stages of  what became the typical path AIDS took.

I must give Mr. Nava credit for this.  He does not shy away from the subject at all.  But his books never become AIDS books either.  AIDS was part of living in the Bay Area in Goldenboy and in Los Angelos in How Town.  Mr. Nava deals with AIDS just as he does with other aspects of California life in the 1980's.  This portrait of California life is one thing that makes the Henry Rios novels so successful.  Reading then is a bit like trvelling back in time.  As someone who spent the 1980's in California, I continually found myself recognizing the places Mr. Nava described and remembering the events his characters go through.

The Henry Rios novels are what it was really like.  The portrait they paint is not always flattering, but it is true-to-life.

1 comment:

Jim Randolph said...

Enjoy your relaxed posting schedule. And enjoy your summer!