Golden Boy - Michael Nava
The second in the Henry Rios mysteries.
For a book where almost every character is gay and gay issues drive the plot, this is a remarkably un-gay book really. Not straight, exactly, justÖ ungay. Itís all rather passionless. Which is a huge shame, as I was really looking forward to this one, as I loved the first in the series.
Henry is called in by an old friend to defend a young boy accused of murder. He was caught red-handed, literally: he had the knife in his hand, standing over the body, no one else there. However, he claims he innocent. He canít remember what happened, but he says he couldnít have done it.
Henry takes on the case because he discovers his friend is dying of AIDS and wants this to be an act of balance Ė one life for another. Gradually, Henry gets dragged into a spiral of lies, sex, betrayal and death.
During the course of the story, he meets Josh, a witness who has a shaky alibi. He chooses Henry to confess to, for personal reasons, and Henry becomes caught in his much more attractive web.
Given that this was such a well-written mystery and it was all very gay-centric, Iím disappointed in myself that I didnít engage with it more. Even the romance between Henry and Josh didnít do it for me. I didnít get it to start with. It was nothing thenóbangótheyíre confessing undying love. Huh? Did I miss the memo?
Shame, because this was building up to be a superb series. I will get the next oneóhell, well-written gay novels with gorgeous men arenít that common to get overly choosyóbut it wonít be the one I snatch off my reading pile first as I did as soon as this one arrived.
This is the 2nd Henry Rios mystery (we reviewed #1 The Little Death earlier) and Nava hits his stride.† Not since Joseph Hansenís more dramatic Brandstetters have I been so nail-bitingly, heart-in-the-mouth caught up in a detective thriller, for similar reasons, i.e. the fusion of gay romance and mystery.† Henry is a worthy successor to Dave B (Iíd put Don Strachey in a different category).
Since the first book in the series, Henry has had treatment for the incipient alcoholism I could see was going to be a problem.† He doesnít drink any more but heís not exactly happy.† Now 36 heís still single.† Yeah, he needs the love of a good man, like Dave Bís Cecil and Don Stracheyís Timmy.
When old friend Larry Charles approaches Henry, calling in a favour by asking him to represent a boy accused of murder in LA, he isnít too enthusiastic.† Looks like an open and shut case.† Caught under very incriminating circumstances, Jim Pears says heís innocent but no one, including Henry once heís heard the details, believes heís innocent.† Trouble is Jim canít remember anything about what happened that night.† He needs representation:† the Public Defender says she canít help because he refuses to talk to her but maybe heíll open up to a gay lawyer.
Except Jim Pears is profoundly homophobic, a closeted young man filled with self-hate.† Victim Brian Cox allegedly taunted Jim about his sexuality, providing motive for murderÖeasier to kill than admit to being gay.† †However as the story unfolds itís a lot more complicated than it seems.
Given the 80s setting inevitably AIDS features.† Societyís homophobia prevents youths like Jim coming out and at the same time allows gay men to die of a disease the same bigots regard as divine retribution.† Gay lives having less value than straight ones.† Larry wants Henry to redress the balance by saving Jim, though he has other more poignant reasons too.† Henry admits he doesnít like Jim because ĎHe makes me feel like a faggotí acknowledging that self-hate is catching, even for a grown man apparently at ease with his sexuality.†
Thereís a lot of anger in the novel that almost overwhelms the detective mystery plot but Nava manages to balance issues with enough twists and turns to sustain interest.† Itís not all about hetero nastiness either.† Predatory gay characters exploit the weak to hide their secret desires, a life of deceit that hurts everyone and leads to violence and death by way of self-protection.†
Nava introduces a romantic interest for Henry, in a way thatís not entirely convincing for various reasons, yet I welcomed the development so overlooked these concerns.† I knew what was coming from the moment they connected.† The scene where Henry goes home to meet his new loverís unknowing parents is one of the best in the novel.† Their relationship is very tentative but quite sweet and I liked it.
Henryís motivation is the fight for justice, particularly championing the underdog, the weak who cannot fight for themselves.† He wants to protect the vulnerable.† Itís going to be interesting to see how this plays out with a lover 14 years younger, with his own needs.† †
Highly recommended.† Iím in this for the long haul.