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Thirty years ago, The Little Death introduced Henry Rios, a gay, Latino criminal defense lawyer who became the central figure in a celebrated seven novel series.
In a brilliant reimagination of The Little Death, Lay Your Sleeping Head retains all the complexity and elegance of the plot of the original novel but deepens the themes of personal alienation and erotic obsession that both honored the traditions of the American crime novel and turned them on their head.
Henry Rios, a gifted and humane lawyer driven to drink by professional failure and personal demons, meets a charming junky struggling to stay clean. He tells Rios an improbable tale of long-ago murders in his wealthy family. Rios is skeptical, but the erotic spark between them ignites an obsessive affair that ends only when the man’s body is discovered with a needle in his arm on the campus of a great California university.
Rios refuses to believe his lover’s death was an accidental overdose. His hunt for the killer takes him down San Francisco’s mean streets and into Nob Hill mansions where he uncovers the secrets behind a legendary California fortune and the reason the man he loved had to die.
” ‘You know, we are the only people who get born into the enemy camp. I mean, black babies get born into black families. Jewish babies get born into Jewish families, but gay babies, we get born into straight families. How we survive at all is a miracle.’
So muses a character in The Hidden Law, one of author Michael Nava’s acclaimed Henry Rios mystery series. This was a seven-book endeavor, beginning in 1986 and concluding in 2001. These are beautifully, often poetically written novels; they combine the usual noir plot complexity (for all you whodunit fans) along with forward-thinking issues on coming out, staying in, and coping with AIDS during the worst of the plague. They have not dated.
The author said 2001’s Rag and Bone would be his last Henry Rios book. But Nava, who worked in law and ran for political office, has considerably and brilliantly rewritten his first Rios book, A Little Death. It is now titled Lay Your Sleeping Head.
If no major movie studio is interested, outlets such as Netflix and Amazon would be the place to go with the Rios saga. We need it now. And we always need to remember those years when the band played on, despite the terrible winnowing of the orchestra.”
— Liz Smith, New York Social Diary
“Nava revisits his first literary whodunit as Lay Your Sleeping Head, an exquisitely re-imagined narrative that delves deeper into the interior world of a professional man battling alcoholism while igniting his fighting spirit for social justice.”
— 8 Great Latino Books of 2016 – NBC News Web site
“All in all, the appearance of this new ‘old’ novel should be regarded as one of the literary events of the year.”
— Drewey Wayne Gunn, Lambda Literary Review
“Lay Your Sleeping Head is an absolute must read…Michael Nava’s prose is, in a word, inspired. This novel isn’t filled with bombast or hyperbole; rather, its narrative is delivered in classic noir style, with a hardboiled and self-destructive protagonist as its shining feature.”
— The Novel Approach Web site
“In the new work, the relationships are more convincing and more layered than in the original. Lay Your Sleeping Head is, after all, a historical novel as well as a mystery. The re-imagination of the original novel…includes a fuller sense of its setting in the early 1980s, especially a more acute awareness of the events of the era that threatened LGBT people. The major thematic difference between The Little Death and the new work is the latter’s emphasis on inequality in all its forms. All great fortunes are built on the backs of others, Rios realizes, as he explores the source of the great railroad fortune at the heart of the mystery, which was built in part upon the exploitation and sacrifices of Chinese workers. As with other explorations in Lay Your Sleeping Head, the issue of inequality is more complex and multi-faceted than it might at first appear.”
— Claude Summers, The New Civil Rights Movement Web site