Monday, August 12, 2013

The Burning Plain by Michael Nava

The Burning Plain, Micheal Nava's sixth Henry Rios novel, is messy.

Things start off fairly simple with the by now usual introduction of a handsome man into criminal defense attorney Henry Rios's life.  Henry is still dealing with the dealh of his ex-lover Josh who passed away at the end of book five.  Josh's parents are fighting him over what to do with the remains.  Henry is not ready to move on in any fashion when he spots Alex Amerian, a hopeful actor who bears a striking resemblance to Josh.

At the urging of a close friend, Henry asks Alex out only to discover at the end of the date that Alex has been paid for his services.  Henry throws Alex out of his house shortly before midnight unaware that he will soon become the last person to see Alex alive, the last person short of Alex's killer that is.

Henry soon becomes involved in the investigation into Alex's death, which looks like a hate crime since "Kill Fags" was carved into his chest shortly after Alex was killed.  Henry's investigation will take him into the world of Hollywood's upper echelon as well as into the darker country of a corrupt police force.  This is familiar Chandlersque territory well known to readers of James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential among many others.  As is common in  L.A. noir mysteries, every question's answer only leads Henry into more questions and darker secrets the higher up the Hollywood ladder the case leads him.

But things get really messy when the main suspect dies halfway through the novel, drowned in his own toilet, passed out from drunkenness.  The police and district attorney, satisfied that they had the right man, close the case. Since the Hollywood executive funding Henry's investigation no longer needs to worry about the studio's reputation, he pays Henry off and sends him on his way.

Even Henry settles down and starts to deal with the loss of Josh.  The novel could be over, but it keeps going on for several chapters in a loose, almost directionless fashion as Henry gets pieces of information that lead him to suspect a much larger conspiracy behind the murders.  Mr. Nava introduces a subplot about a sixteen-year-old boy trying to escape his fundamentalist parents who want to send him to a school in Utah that claims to have a program for curing homosexuality.  The whole plot just gets really messy which is a problem for a detective story.

For fifty pages or so, I was beginning to lose faith in Mr. Nava, but he turned this around, developing this second half of his story, maybe I should call it a second part or even a new plot line altogether, into a darn good thriller.  The last hundred pages kept turning fast and furious right up to the end.

Which is the point, I guess.


1 comment:

Sandy Nawrot said...

Man, talk about drama! And drowning in a toilet? That would be the worst way to go.