Desperado: A Mile High Noir
Edgar Award finalist Manuel Ramos writes some of the smoothest mystery fiction I have encountered in a long time.
In Desperado: A Mile High Noir, his protagonist Gus Corral agrees, very reluctantly, to help an old high school buddy, Arturo “Artie” Baca, attempt to save his marriage. Gus is supposed to deliver a hefty blackmail payment to a woman with whom Artie briefly has had a drunken fling. And, in return, Gus will receive $1,000 for his efforts — but only after the blackmail payment is made.
Of course, Gus has a bad feeling about the deal and definitely doesn’t want to do it. But he is nearly broke, and his only job is managing his ex-wife’s second-hand store in Denver’s recession-ravaged Latino North Side.
There is an old saying: No good deed goes unpunished. In Ramos’s dark tale published in 2013, Gus doesn’t even get to do the “good” deed before he falls into trouble.
Artie is murdered, and the investigating detectives find the $1,000 check, made out to Gus, in the victim’s wallet. The cops are sure it is for some kind of payoff; Artie, after all, has been on their radar for a while. He has a police record, and he has had some profitable but unsavory dealings involving the gentrification of Denver’s North Side.
When Gus attempts to get the police off his back, he soon stumbles into new dangers that spill out of a war between rival gangs and the theft of one of the religious symbols most important to Latino Catholics. And from there, this excellent, multicultural noir novel gets even darker. No spoiler alerts here!
— Si Dunn