Henry Rios

Created by Michael Nava
(1954 –)

HENRY RIOS‘s a gay, Hispanic, heart-on-his-sleeve criminal defense lawyer and recovering alcoholic (whew!) from San Francisco. He’s got quite a rep as a ”rescuer,” a ”fixer of broken lives” who’s willing to do things his way. But this ain’t no Pollyanna feelgood series. Here there be darkness…

Henry went into private practice because he grew weary of his role as a public defender, plea-bargaining the fate of his clients. His lifestyle makes it difficult for him and his estranged family to get along, and it’s not helped by the fact he’s become something of a spokesman — and an outspoken one at that — for the gay community. His charm is both macho and sensitive.

The books are written in a cool, clear, precise style that belies the often turbulent emotional issues that propel the well-crafted plots. The Death of Friends (1996) is particularly powerful. One reader confided on rec.arts.mystery, “I just finished it, and, excellent as it was, it has left me a basket case. I had procrastinated reading it for over a year because I expected it to be overpoweringly depressing, and was I ever right!”

As the New York Times Book Review recently put it, Henry “doesn’t win any friends for choosing dispassionate justice over revenge. But he does it anyway, because he’s one of the good guys — and Nava is one of the best.”

Unfortunately for Henry, his decisions have taken a toll on his personal and professional life. Over the series, he’s in and out of rehab, and by Carved in Bone (2019), he’s working as an insurance investigator because, well, it’s complicated…

The Rios books have been particularly well-received in the gay and lesbian communities, with Goldenboy (1988), Howtown (1990), The Hidden Law (1992) and the afore-mentioned The Death of Friends all receiving Lambda awards, and in 2001 he received that organization’s Bill Whitehead Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Nava is an attorney in private practice in San Francisco, and has edited Finale (1989), a collection of gay and lesbian mystery short stories. He also co-authored Why Gay Rights Matter in America (1995) with Robert Dawidoff.


  • “Nava is part of a breed of writers who have broken through the limitations of the mystery genre.”
    — San Francisco Chronicle


  • “Street People” (1989, Finale)



Respectfully submitted by Susan Sotelo, from the University of Arizona, who’s doing research on the Chicano detective novel, with a little additional info by Kevin Burton Smith.


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