I've wanted to read Nava's Henry Rios mysteries for a long time and was thrilled to see them (at least the first four of them) in audio format - and a..Show More »m hoping the last three are forthcoming. I'm a little shocked that this is the first review. The Little Death is the first of the series, in which Rios starts out as a burned-out public defender in, essentially, Palo Alto. It takes place in roughly the early 1980s (and was written in about 1985), but though in some ways it is clearly the product of its time, in other ways it transcends its setting and doesn't feel at all dated.
The story begins with him interviewing inmate Hugh Paris in jail. (Hugh, contrary to what the blurb says, is not his former lover; this is their first meeting.) Hugh declines his PD services but shows up on his doorstep a few weeks later, presumably having sensed a connection between them, but also convinced someone is out to kill him. Rios doesn't believe him, but when Hugh is later found dead of an apparent heroin overdose, Rios is the only one interested in seeking justice or finding the killer, and his search leads him into the twisty hidden world of San Francisco's Old Money families.
The mystery is convoluted but subtle and intelligent, without the pat and predictable twists often found in today's mystery-thrillers. No blood and gore, no graphic sex, but I didn't miss them. The plot moves along at a good pace and kept me thoroughly engaged even as it was expertly interspersed with Henry Rios's own introspection as he contemplates turbulent changes in both his professional and personal life, and his emotional journey, or start thereof, as this is just the beginning of a 7-book series. (His personal issues, and in particular the fact that he is gay, are certainly important, but they are not defining, either of the plot or of Rios himself.) It might be possible to feel somewhat detached or disengaged by the very precise and cool tone of the writing, but I found the tone actually emphasizes the emotions Rios feels in a way a more impassioned tone might not have.
And this book left me wanting to know a lot more about him.
One of the things that distinguishes this mystery (besides the relatively rare gay protagonist) is the exquisite writing. The prose is spare but elegant, and the smooth, cultured voice of the narrator, Gregory St. John (with whom I was not familiar), though perhaps arguable how well it is suited to the nature and ethnicity of the protagonist, is absolutely perfect for the tone and tenor of the writing. Listening to him turned out to be an ideal way to appreciate the author's remarkable craftsmanship: his understated but genius turns of phrase (so many phrases I wanted to write down to remember later!), his control of the plot, the flow and seeming effortlessness of the writing.