Sunday, September 1, 2013

Rag and Bone by Michael Nava


All good things come to an end.

Even a detective series.

Rag and Bone is the final installment in Michael Nava's Henry Rios crime series.  Spanning almost twenty years  from the 1980's to the 2000's, the books follow the life and career of criminal defense attorney Henry Rios, from just above rock-bottom to a new start on a road to success.

When I first met Henry Rios he was leaving a job with the public defender's office in San Carlos California just south of San Francisco.  The time was the mid-1980's when living in the Bay Area was like living in a war zone--we all knew too many people who had died from AIDS to keep counting. Counting would have broken our hearts even more than not counting did.

The novels follow Henry's life as he falls in love with much younger men, one whom he moves in with only to lose him to another man before finally losing him to AIDS.  The books also follow Henry as he moves south to Los Angeles making the series not just a portrait of one man, or of a single city, but of a good swath of California.  With roots in a Central Valley small town and a sister in the Oakland Hills, there's not much of the state left out of the series when taken as a whole.

And as a whole is how I took it this past summer, starting with the first book just before my vacation started and finishing the final one yesterday.

This is the second time I've read an entire series in a row, the first was the Martin Beck novels by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo which I read last year.  I really like it.  It's kind of like binge watching an entire television series in a weekend.  There's even a sense of physical accomplishment to it, reading so many books in such a short space of time. It kind of feels good.

It doesn't hurt that Henry came to a very good resting place either.  While the last novel still leaves things somewhat up in the air, Henry has come to ground after a very difficult love life, a challenging career representing people no one else would have defended, and the loss of so many friends and family.  Rag and Bone finds him with a new love, a new job as a judge, a renewed relationship with his once estranged sister and even a surrogate son to raise.

None of this happiness feels forced either. Mr. Nava managed to give his main character a genuine happy ending.  Happy enough anyway.  As I said, it's not completely clear that things will work out in Henry's favor, they never really did in the previous six novels, but happiness is there for Henry if the reader wants him to have it.

As for how good the books are as detective thrillers, I will say that by the end of the series concern for Henry become more of an issue for me.  I still enjoyed the thriller aspects of them, especially the courtroom scenes--Henry really is the lawyer you want on your side should you ever be misfortunate enough to need one.  But by the end of the series, the character study aspects of the novels had overwhelmed the detective/thriller plot lines.  The last novel doesn't really feature a criminal investigation until 130 pages in.

Normally, I would find this an unforgivable fault.  Spending more time on the quirky characters than on the crime itself is not something I tolerate in a detective story.  But after reading so many books in such a short time, I   really was more concerned with Henry Rios than with the cases he was working on.  Mr. Nava keeps even the case  focused on Henry in Rag and Bone by making the defendant Henry's long lost niece and one of the possible suspects her ten-year-old son, his grand-nephew and the boy he will end up helping to raise.

It's all about Henry in book seven.

I wouldn't have wanted it any other way.

1 comment:

Sandy Nawrot said...

I've done some binge-reading in my past as well. Jack Reacher and Kinsey Millhone in particular...that was all before blogging. I don't allow myself much of that lately, which is sad. It is so indulgent. Just read a book recently that covers a few characters that are having trouble fitting in, one being a gay man growing up in Georgia in the '80's. Eventually he moves to NYC and AIDS has a huge impact on his life. It is such a great book and focuses on cooking and food. I digress though. Binge-reading a series is good for the soul. I think I need one.