Michael Nava published the first mystery featuring Henry Rios, A Little Death, in 1986 and the last, Rag and Bone, in 2001. Both of these novels and the five in-between were all released well before our contemporary efforts to embrace diverse voices within the crime fiction genre, and yet Michael Nava was able to find a loyal and devoted following – especially among LBGTQ+ readers – because of the quality of the writing on display. Needless to say, excitement was high when it was revealed that Nava would return to the world of Henry Rios with his latest novel, Carved in Bone.
Despite being released almost two decades after the last original novel in the series, Carved in Bone feels like meeting up with an old friend after years of distance. It is important to know that chronologically, Carved in Bone is actually the second book in the Henry Rios series – following A Little Death, which was re-released with new content in 2016 under the title Lay Your Sleeping Head. This means that new readers can easily jump into the series with the release of this new book.
Carved in Bone is really two stories that run in parallel – overlapping and reflecting on each other in fascinating ways. It is 1984 and Henry Rios is working as a insurance claims investigator after a stint in rehab. When he is asked to investigate the seemingly accidental death of Bill Ryan, Henry has not idea just how emotionally invested he will become in the story of this young man. Meanwhile, readers are privy to Bill Ryan’s story starting in 1971 Illinois, when he is forced from his parent’s house after his father catches him making out with another local boy. Bill runs off to San Francisco and the path his life takes is one that readers will find riveting, even as his tragic end becomes inevitable.
Michael Nava writes with an ease and clarity that makes the words on the page seem simplistic, but these are words that demand reflection after the fact – causing readers to spend time with these characters in their own minds outside the world of the book. Carved in Bone can – and likely will – be read quickly; it’s the absorption of the message and importance of the tale that take rumination to fully grasp. The ‘80s were not a peaceful time for LGBTQ+ citizens, so the tale at the core of Carved in Bone is one that is painful, shameful, and important. Because we are reading this with from our current vantage point, it adds an air of hopefulness to this poignant tale. Things have gotten better for the LGBTQ+ community, but there is still a long ways to go.
Readers hoping to find fresh new voices in the crime fiction genre should make every effort not to forget about pioneering voices from the past who were ahead of their time and not given their due because of that. Henry Rios is such a unique character – a gay Hispanic lawyer-activist with a plethora of personal demons – and Michael Nava is the perfect author to bring him to life on the page. Pick up a copy of Carved in Bone and join Henry Rios as he struggles to understand his place in the world. Just be sure to keep those tissues close because this one is a total tear-jerker.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the author. No review was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.