Two new thrillers focus on conspiracies in the gay community of Los Angeles and the hills of Kentucky – Sun Sentinel

‘Lies With Man’ by Michael Nava. Amble Press, 282 pages, $17.95

Politics, homophobia, racism and a gay community struggling with the fallout of the AIDS crisis provide a terrific backdrop for Michael Nava’s standout ninth novel about gay Latino criminal lawyer Henry Rios.

Set in 1986, “Lies With Man” works well as a historical novel, legal thriller, and character study about people maneuvering uncertain times. A seven-time Lambda Literary Award-winning author, Nava shows the humanity in every character, even those who choose hate over compassion.

In “Lies With Man”, fears run high within the gay community when the California ballot contains a proposal that would allow AIDS patients to be forcibly quarantined. Those campaigning for the initiative are fueled by misinformation, bigotry and outright hatred – escalated when a religious leader is killed in the bombing of an evangelical church. As a lawyer for a group of nonviolent activists protesting the initiative, Henry agrees to defend one of the members accused of murder in the bombing. The case leads Henry to a conspiracy involving high-ranking figures in Los Angeles.

The tense suspense is complemented by solid twists and an insider’s view of Los Angeles in “Lies With Man.” Nava delivers three-dimensional characters with complicated personalities, including a pastor torn between his “unfiltered and uncomplicated” love for his gay son and the strict teachings of his church condemning the young man.

Nava put Henry on hiatus after his novel ‘Rag and Bone’ (2001), then brought it back eight years later with ‘Carved in Bone’ in 2019. Hoping ‘Lies With Man’ continues an annual visit with Henry .

Zoom with the author

Michael Nava will discuss “Lies With Man” during a Zoom chat at 6:30 p.m. on July 28 with Hunter O’Hanian, executive director of the Stonewall National Museum & Archives in Fort Lauderdale. The event is free but reservations are required. To visit record; a link and a password will be automatically sent by e-mail.

“The Killing Hills” by Chris Offutt. Grove Press, 240 pages, $26

For those who live in the hollers and by the streams of rural Kentucky, there is “a culture that has elevated blood family above all else.” Here, family history, ties, revenge and pride generate “an innate belief in vengeful purpose” – all things Army Intelligence Officer Mick Hardin knows well.

A veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Mick has returned to his hometown of Morehead to see his pregnant ex-wife. But in “The Killing Hills,” he’s caught up in a local murder marred by decades-old family feuds in which grudges are akin to an art form.

Mick begins to help his sheriff sister Linda, who is under pressure from coal tycoon Murvil Knox to solve the murder of beloved Nonnie Johnson, whose body was left deep in the woods. Murvil wants Linda replaced, partly because of sexism but mostly because he wants his own candidate for office.

As Mick “works in the woods”, he must first mention the names of his father and grandfather so that Nonnie’s family, neighbors and acquaintances – who could be the killer – know who his ” people”. Their reluctance to speak is due to their fear that Mick wants to shut down the drug business in the area, as meth and Oxycontin travel through the area too frequently.

In his seventh book, Offutt captures the nuances of those who inhabit this part of eastern Kentucky, their aversion to strangers, their resilience, and their tendency to take justice into their own hands. Crisp dialogue, bits of humor, an evocative look at the region, and a stalwart hero elevate “The Killing Hills.”

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at

Alycia R. Lindley