by Manuel Ramos
Review: It's been a long time since Gus Corral has seen his high school classmate Artie Baca. After graduation they went their separate ways, Gus just barely scraping by, Artie becoming a successful real estate developer. So it's a surprise when Artie stops by the second-hand shop where Gus works to ask a favor, one that he's willing to pay $1000 to Gus for, in Desperado, a stand-alone "mile high noir" novel by Manuel Ramos.
Artie is being blackmailed by a young woman, who has a video of their tryst and is threatening to show it to his wife if he doesn't pay her $10,000. Artie thinks that if Gus does the transfer, that will be the end of it. Gus thinks the plan makes no sense, but is swayed by the $1000 check payable to him that Artie has in his hand. Gus says he'll consider it, and Artie leaves after handing Gus a photo of the girl. A couple of days later two police officers arrive at the shop, asking Gus what he knows about one Artie Baca. An old buddy, he tells them, nothing more. The cops think there must be more since they found a check with Gus's name on it on the very dead body of Artie. Gus assures the police that he knows nothing about Artie's murder, all the while suspecting that the story Artie had told him probably wasn't true … and that the person, who knows the truth is the unidentified woman that was blackmailing Artie.
At the onset, readers may be wondering why Gus simply doesn't turn the photo of the girl over to the police, tell them what he knows, and be done with it. And this really is the weakest element here, a fairly shaky premise on which to build a novel-length narrative. Still, it isn't too much of a stretch to accept that Gus doesn't trust the authorities to look elsewhere for a suspect and that finding one himself could only be to his benefit. Given that, the plot unfolds in a reasonably straight-forward manner, with Gus (not unexpectedly) getting into all sorts of trouble with all the wrong kinds of people. At about the two-thirds mark, the path forward becomes a little more twisted, finally incorporating the event outlined in the book's prologue, and adding several layers of complexity, all to the better. Relatively short at just 180 pages, it's an appropriate length for what turns out to be a really good crime novel.
Desperado is set in Denver, and while there is a flavor of the city in the book, it's not a strong one. The story could have been set in almost any major city in the US. That doesn't make it any less effective as a story, but readers expecting "mile high noir" may be slightly disappointed.
Acknowledgment: Arte Público Press provided a copy of Desperado for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Desperado: Denver, Colorado
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Desperado by Manuel Ramos
Publisher: Arte Público Press
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: March 2013
List Price: $17.95
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Page Author: Lance Wright
Site Publisher: Mysterious Reviews
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