Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Hidden Law by Michael Nava

During the 1980's and 1990's many a romance was ended by a difference in HIV status.  There was  an active debate in the gay community over whether or not HIV positive guys should date HIV negative guys.   When two men already in a long term relationship found only one of them was HIV negative, it was often the positive partner who pulled away.  There were sound reasons for doing this, but if you were the negative person in the relationship, you couldn't help feeling angry over it.

This is the underlying issue in Michael Nava's  fourth Henry Rios novel, The Hidden Law, set in the late 1980's.  Henry's boyfriend Josh, who is HIV positive, is leaving him for another HIV positive man, someone who understands what he is going through.  Henry, who is HIV negative,  is understandably upset.  He still loves Josh, still wants to live with him, wants to take care of him, and is more than willing to see him through to the end.
Josh is also upset about the time Henry spends with his clients instead of with him.  Josh has a point.

This time Henry, who is a public defender, is working with a client accused of murdering Gus Pena, a Los Angelos City Council member who had been moving up the political ladder.  Henry's young client is a drug addict, in and out of treatment, who came to know Gus Pena when both were in the same rehab program.

Both story lines are very good, Henry solving the case and Henry dealing with his lover Josh, but novel four is the one where Henry's personal life begins to overshadow the detective story.  Anyone familiar with LGBT mystery  fiction of the 1980's and 1990's will recognize this pattern.  Mystery/detective fiction set in the present has always dealt with the issues of the day, whatever they happened to be--this is part of its appeal. Now, almost 30 years later, these same books read like time machines.  They provide the window onto the past that historical fiction reaches for but never quite grasps because so few writers of historical fiction can really leave their own contemporary mindset behind.

Mr. Nava still delivers a good detective story, but the novels have become a character study now.  With three more to go, I'm more interested in what will happen to Henry than I am in the cases he is working on. Usually, this would be the point where I'd stop reading the books.  I read detective fiction for the case, not for the quirky characters.  But this series is making me re-think my position.

I want to know what happens to Henry; Mr. Nava can set the who-dunnit aspect aside.

1 comment:

Judith said...

I really appreciated this post and am interested in reading this detective series. Even more interesting was your commentary about LGBT mystery fiction of the late 1980s and 1990s and the fact that they reveal what was going on from the point of view of cultural history or social history. Thanks!