Arte Publico Press, $17.95, 248 pages, ISBN 978-1-55885-833-6
The word noir (pronounced NWAR) comes from the French. Its literal translation is black, but it can be interpreted as dark or wicked. As it applies to the Mysterious Book Report, it’s a type of crime fiction that’s characterized by cynicism, fatalism and moral ambiguity. The noir genre has become so popular over the past few years that it’s now being broken down into sub-headings such as southern noir, urban and even hillbilly noir. Now, thanks to a fortunate series of events, (more about that in just a bit), we’re going to introduce all of you to what can only be called Latino Noir, and hey, great news . . . it’s happening just a few miles north of Colorado Springs, in Denver, Colorado. That’s where author Manuel Ramos lives and works and has situated his series featuring a tough guy named Gus Corral.
My Bad, a mile high noir, is the follow-up to the first of the series, entitled Desperado, and was just released the first of October, 2016.
As the novel begins, Gus Corral is fresh out of prison, where he went down on charges for a robbery and shootout that left several people dead. Then, there was the little matter of a few kidnappings, Mexican cartels and the theft of a priceless religious artifact—but you’ll have to read the first novel to find out about all of that. Now, Gus has paid his debt to society, been granted parole and is determined to keep his nose clean. He reports to his Parole Officer, passes random drug tests and has a job working as an investigator and process server for Luis Montez, the aging Chicano lawyer and one-time activist for Hispanic rights who defended Gus and engineered a more lenient sentence than he would otherwise have received. When a woman whose husband, a seedy northside Denver bar owner who was killed under mysterious circumstances, comes to the office with a wild tale about an unknown partner in an unknown—to her—import business who’s threatening her life, claiming that a quarter million dollars is owed to him by the dead husband . . . everything changes for all of them . . . and not for the better. As the problems and the bodies mount up on every page, it looks less and less likely that Gus will be able to keep his freedom.
Using an economy of words reminiscent of Raymond Chandler and James M. Cain, Mr. Ramos puts the reader on the ground in the fast-disappearing north Denver neighborhoods whose Hispanic ethnicity is being lost to an unrelenting assault of yuppification, urbanization and ever higher real estate prices. With surprises galore, plot twists and a walk down pop music history, in every chapter coupled with a stunning denouement you’ll never see coming, My Bad is great crime fiction and entertaining reading. It’s so authentic you’ll feel like you grew up in the neighborhood! Manuel Ramos was a finalist for a CWA Edgar award and writes tough-guy prose with an understated eloquence other authors can only envy. And the fortunate series of events? I became aware of Deparado because it’s on the same Amazon landing page as one of mine. Then, Mr. Ramos and I chanced to meet at the Mountain of Authors event last spring.