There’s nothing like the ease and assuredness of a master at work, and Michael Nava’s Henry Rios series just gets better and better. This is Nava’s second book after an eighteen year gap, but the rest must have done him a world of good. Now on Bywater Books’ new imprint, Amble Press, Nava once again puts Rios through his paces as the out and proud criminal defense lawyer takes on his most involved case yet.
Newly sober, Rios finds himself in Los Angeles during the height of the AIDS epidemic in a community petrified about a Christian-sponsored ballot initiative that would force HIV positive people into quarantine camps. He takes on the job of counsel for an ostensibly peaceful activist group called QUEER (Queers United to End Erasure and Repression). That position becomes critical when Theo Latour, one of the group members, is accused of bombing an evangelical church that supported the quarantine, killing the pastor in the process.
Nava’s skill at plotting is as evident as his way with a character, and Daniel Herron, the pastor killed in the bombing, is a particularly perfect example. Herron is an old hippie, straight from Haight, who begins as an atheist and falls sideways into the evangelical life. In one of the more intriguing subplots, he also has a child with an old girlfriend who, unbeknownst to him, was pregnant when they lost track of each other. Many years on, when Herron is entrenched in the church hierarchy, he finds out about the boy, who is in the hospital with AIDS complications. Herron is such an interesting character, it’s almost a shame he dies in the accident. However, the remainder of the book is suffused with his presence.
Rios, too, is as complicated as always. Committed to staying sober, he’s also beginning to seek out a relationship with a guy named Josh. The fact that the accused, Theo, is Josh’s roommate doesn’t dissuade him a bit. Even the minor characters, such as Marc Unger, a sleazy fellow gay lawyer who bombards Rios with smarmy sexual remarks, and the bail bondsman/private investigator are interesting and well-drawn. Mention also needs to be made of Herron’s wife, an alcoholic who has a small but pivotal role to play in the ending.
Lies With Man is a perfect addition to the Henry Rios series, as sure and confident as you’d want. It’s great as a standalone and a good place to start if you’ve never read any of the others. Open it up and prepare yourself for quite the ride.
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler