DESPERADO: A MILE HIGH NOIR by Manual Ramos is a fast paced contemporary crime mystery through the streets and changing landscape of Denver’s North Side.
Gus, a not so lovable guy, is trying to rebuild his ‘loser’ life, working at and sleeping on a cot at his ex-wife’s thrift store.
He’s minding his own business when an old high school buddy, Artie-the handsome, cool, now successful real estate magnate- walks in and changes Gus’s life in all the wrong ways.
Artie is the not so innocent victim of a blackmail. His womanizing has caught up with him, and it’s recorded on video. He’ll pay Gus big money for his help in paying off the young blackmailer and making sure there are no future payments.
Gus agrees to help Artie. But before he can meet with the blackmailer, the cops find Artie dead, carrying a large check made out to Gus. The favor for some quick cash puts Gus in the cross hairs of the local police who believe Gus murdered Artie.
The police investigation is the least of Gus’s worries. His own inquiries into Artie’s death leads him to the Mexican cartel who involve him in the theft of a sacred religious symbol, the tilma of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Gus’s sister and his new love interest, Isabel, are kidnapped to ensure that Gus goes along with the cartel’s wishes.
Gus, the anti-hero, has to prove that he is neither murderer nor thief, and live to tell his story. Like all good mysteries there are double crosses, twists, turns and surprises.
Who I particularly enjoyed was the secondary female character Corrine, Gus’s sister, portrayed as a strong, intelligent (street and otherwise), woman with a sense of humor and family loyalty that made her hard shell exterior more lovable. She steps into the picture when she finds detectives grilling Gus about Artie’s murder.
Gus: “She stood toe-to-toe with cops before she had a license to drive…”
Corrine: “Unless you got a warrant or you’re arresting Gus, he shouldn’t even say prayers with you guys.”
Gus: “Corrine’s voice did not waver.”
What I like about this mystery is the setting and the characters. The scenes are identifiable for anyone who grew up on “the wrong side of the tracks,” or low-income areas. The characters are people of different cultures who are presented in a non-stereotypical manner.
Desperado is a page turner that keeps you hooked into the action of the story. It’s a gritty tale written vividly and clearly in a compelling style.
The author, Manual Ramos, is an Edgar Award finalist, the recipient of several literary awards, and the author of eight novels, including the Luis Montez mystery series. He is an attorney who works in Denver, Colorado.
I first encountered Mr. Ramos books in my local library. After reading the first one I was hooked and found his other books online. I’m now a fan.
Disclosure: I received an unsolicited advanced reading copy of this novel.