- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
Michael Nava (b. 1954) is the award-winning author of seven novels featuring criminal defense lawyer Henry Rios. The Little Death (1986), the first book in the series, completed while Nava was in law school, was followed by Goldenboy (1988), How Town (1990), The Hidden Law (1992), The Death of Friends (1996), The Burning Plain (1997), and Rag and Bones (2001). He is also the co-author of the nonfiction book, Created Equal: Why Gay Rights Matter to America (1994). Nava is a six-time recipient of the Lambda Literary Award as well as the Bill Whitehead Lifetime Achievement Award for Gay and Lesbian literature. Michael Nava lives in San Francisco, where he works as an appellate lawyer.
THE WALLS OF THE COURTROOM OF THE COURT OF APPEAL on the third floor in the Ronald Reagan State Office Building were paneled in gray-green marble the color of money while the justices' dais and the benches in the gallery were gleaming wood that had been stained the deep, coagulated red called oxblood; the same red as the tasseled loafers of the big-firm lawyers who regularly practiced in this venue. The $350-an-hour crowd were set apart not only by their shoes but also by their haircuts, which appeared to be the result of a microscopic process by which every hair was, in fact, individually cut. Needless to say, these lawyers were in civil practice. We in the criminal bar were incapable of the insouciance that seems to be issued with platinum credit cards and corner offices. We tended to be solitary creatures, easily identifiable by our bulging files, tattered briefcases, hair in need of cutting, suits in need of pressing and attitudes of weary cynicism. The deputy attorneys general who filed down from their offices on the fifth floor to represent the state in criminal matters were mostly kids a few years out of law school who produced earnest, moot-court-style briefs but with the law largely on their side; in the defense bar, we joked that they could have submitted photocopied pages from the phone book and still won. They slouched into the courtroom in off-the-rack suits, carrying cheap leather briefcases stamped with the Great Seal of the State of California: a woman warrior clad in a Princess Xena breastplate pointing at San Francisco Bay and presumably exclaiming the state's motto, Eureka! I have found it. She represented the mythical Queen Calafia, whom Spanish explorers believed had ruled over the race of Amazons in the land that now bore her name. Perhaps, I thought, studying the Great Seal on the wall above the dais, she was actually pointing to Oakland, home to a large lesbian population, including my sister, Elena, and her partner.
I wasn't usually so dyspeptic this early in the day, but I had the world's worst heartburn, undoubtedly the result of a breakfast that had consisted of four cups of coffee, a bagel that was half-burned and half-frozen-I really needed a new toaster-and a handful of vitamins. The bitter aftertaste of the pills lingered at the back of my throat. Also, now that I noticed it, my right arm was throbbing. Great. When I was a teenager, I'd suffered through growing pains; at forty-nine, I was suffering through growing-old pains.
The young deputy A.G. beside me pored over his notes and muttered to himself, as if he were about to argue before the United States Supreme Court rather than a three-judge panel-two white-haired white men, one graying black lady-of the intermediate state appellate court. His knee knocked nervously against mine and I glanced at him. He was a handsome boy with that luminous skin of the young, as if a lantern were burning just beneath the flesh.
"'Scuse me," he murmured without looking up.
"Your first appearance?" I asked.
Now he looked. His eyes were like cornflowers. "Is it that obvious?"
"Don't be too anxious," I said. "They've already written the opinion in your case."
"Really," I said. "Oral argument's mostly for show. It's hardly worth bothering to show up."
"Then why are you here?"
"I'm a criminal defense lawyer," I said. "Tilting at windmills is my specialty."
He smiled civilly, then returned to his notes.
"We will hear People versus Guerra," the presiding justice said.
I pulled myself out of the chair and made my way to counsel table. The young A.G. beside me also stood up.
"You're Mr. Rios?" he said as we headed to counsel table.
"None other," I replied.
He held open the gate that separated the gallery from the well of the court where counsel tables were located, and said, "Great brief. I had to pull an all-nighter to finish my reply."
I remembered his brief had had the whiff of midnight oil. "Thanks. You did a good job, too."
I set my file on my side of the table and was gripped by a wave of nausea so intense I was sure I was going to vomit, but the moment passed.
I looked up at the presiding justice, Dahlgren, who was not much older than me and quite possibly a year or two younger.
"I'm sorry, Your Honor."
"Your appearance, please."
"Yes, Your Honor," I grunted. "Henry Rios for defendant and appellant Anthony Guerra."
"Mr. Rios," the lady judge, Justice Harkness, spoke. "Are you all right? You went white as a ghost a second ago."
"Heartburn, Justice Harkness. I'll be fine with a little water." I poured a glass from the carafe on the table. My hand was shaking.
"Tom Donovan for the respondent, the People," the A.G. was saying.
"Mr. Rios, if you're ready," Dahlgren said.
"Yes," I replied, and went to the podium. The justices regarded me dubiously. "Not to be impertinent, but I can see from Your Honors' faces that you're less than thrilled with another Three Strikes case on your docket."
Harkness permitted herself a smile, but Dahlgren said, "It's fair to say, counsel, that you're not the first lawyer to argue that Three Strikes is cruel and unusual punishment, so maybe we can cut this short. Every appellate court that's considered the issue has held that sending repeat felons to prison for life upon conviction of their third felony does not violate either state or federal constitutional proscriptions against cruel and unusual punishment. What's your pitch?"
"My pitch, Your Honor," I said "is that this law is an abomination. In this case, it's sending my client to prison for the rest of his life because he got into a tussle with a security guard in the parking lot of a supermarket from which he had stolen a case of infant formula for his eight-month-old daughter."
Justice Harkness leaned forward. "He was convicted of robbery," she said. "The law doesn't distinguish between stealing diamonds and stealing baby food, Mr. Rios, where the theft is accomplished by force or fear."
"He committed robbery only in the narrowest sense of the statute because he bumped the security guard with a shopping cart. Technically, that's force, but come on, this is L.A., where people shoot each other for parking spaces."
Justice Harkness shook her head. "The security guard was a woman who was five inches shorter and forty pounds lighter than your client."
"Your Honor, with all due respect, she was asked on cross-examination if she was afraid, and she said no. There was no fear and the force was minimal. The Three Strikes law doesn't distinguish between stealing diamonds and stealing baby food, which is why this court must."
The third justice, Rogan, said, "I agree."
"You do?" The surprise was so evident in my voice that the lawyers in the gallery burst into laughter. But it wasn't surprise they had heard; it was the shooting pains in my arm and the waves of nausea that continued to sweep through me.
"I do," Rogan said when the laughter subsided. "But Mr. Rios, Three Strikes doesn't just punish the current felony, it also punishes defendants for past serious felony convictions. Your client has a record as long as Pinocchio's nose."
"But only two convictions are qualifying strikes," I said, "and those were insignificant burglaries..."
"Insignificant by what standard?" Harkness asked.
"They were nonviolent, the losses were small, my client pled." I saw a flash of lights and then groaned as someone with very cold hands squeezed my heart.
I heard the alarm in Justice Harkness's voice when she said, "Mr. Rios, are you sure you're all right?"
I gasped, "If I could just have another minute."
Dahlgren said, "Actually, counsel, your time has expired."
I keeled over.
—From Rag and Bone by Michael Nava. (c) March 15, 2001, Putnam Pub Group, used by permission
Posted November 7, 2001
Michael Nava created a character Henry Rios who in my opinion will go down in history. He is a defense lawyer, he is hispanic and he is gay. Mr. Nava has created an excellent role model, a real, honest, man who just happens to be gay. All of the seven books in the series, including this one have shown a strong development and given great insight into Henry as he has dealt with life, love, death and all else in between. It is amazing to me how Mr. Rios has been able to create novels where the stories are superb, the mysteries so intense and involving, while at the same time creating characters who are are truly human, who you truly get to know. A very rare feat in a mystery novel let alone any novel. Henry Rios has taught me a great deal as a man and Mr. Nava has provided me with many intakes of breath of surprise. Suposedly this is the last Henry Rios novel. It is an excellent novel. Mr. Nava, I truly hope that this is not an end to you as an author for your work provides such great entertainment, comfort and insight. I shall miss Henry Rios and I shall miss you, Mr. Nava.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 9, 2008
Gay attorney Henry Rio is working a case at the California Court of Appeals when he suffers a massive heart attack. Though not close, Henry asks for his sister Elena. She visits him in the hospital and tries to mend their breech even informing him that as a teen she gave up the child she birthed for adoption. Henry acts indifferent towards his niece Vicky because he feels that he has nothing left to live for and death seems welcoming. <P> That nothingness changes when Henry meets John De Leon. They become friends and potentially a deeper relationship seems imminent. Another friend encourages Henry to apply for a judgeship that is vacant. Vicky and her son Angel reenter Henry¿s life when she is arrested for the murder of her husband. The lad moves in with his great-uncle. Vicky pleads battered spouse syndrome, but Henry believes there is more to this situation than that. He begins investigating the case, but needs to gain Vicky¿s trust if he is to uncover the truth. <P>In a postscript Michael Nava informs the reader that this is not only his last Rios novel, but his final mystery. What a way to end a sparkling career with a fabulous tale. The characters make the tale, as they seem so genuine. For instance, a depressed Henry seeks a place in the world while Vicky¿s story comes from headlines. RAG AND BONE is a fitting end to a great series starring a very humanistic but flawed individual. Kudos to the author for a supernava finale. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.