For decades, Denver’s “North Side” was forgotten, overlooked. There was no reason to go there (at least, most citizens of Denver believed) except for a few choice taco joints. If you lived there, you knew better. Many long-time residents of the city didn’t know the “North Side” was, in fact, part of the city. Now it’s home to the hipsters. The transformation of Lower Downtown (LoDo) Denver continues to roll across the highway west—and up the hill. Money continues to pour in. The old “North Side” is fading fast.
Gus Corrall lives over there, but can’t go along with the new trends and new names. “Those of us who were natives to the area couldn’t play that tune. We never used the name LoHi, a rip-off of the LoDo tag with the hope that the flash and cash of LoDo would somehow work its way up…”
Gus doesn’t trust flash and cash. He drives an old, noisy Subaru. Any extra money he has from tending to a second-hand shop pays for a few beers at dive bars, which he prefers. Gus’ old high school pal Artie Baca has done much better—he took a fast ride up on the escalator when the market boomed. Artie has a beautiful wife, handsome kids and buys paintings and jewelry from the best galleries.
When Artie needs help unraveling a mess he’s stepped in—a mess he created—he turns to old pal Gus for help. And then turns up dead. Gus is implicated and quickly finds himself in the bright spotlight of the cops’ investigation. To worm his way out, Gus tangles with a nasty Mexican cartel. He stirs things up with his sisters and old flames. There’s a precious religious artifact in the mix—and bad guys tricking bad guys. Cops sniff around, apply pressure. Gus goes back on the “low road,” where he’s been before. He gets much lower, in fact, than he’d prefer.
Artie, it turns out, lived at the “center of several concentric circles of misery.” The worlds implode with “death and blood and terror.”
“Desperado” is a “Mile High Noir.” Cynicism is in ample supply. Manuel Ramos’ clean prose style—sometimes dark and grim, sometimes wickedly funny—sets the mood perfectly. The contrasts are sharp, the shadows are deep. Deep black. Everyone has an agenda. In this noir world, one good punch in the nose deserves another, though you never know when it’s coming.
I can imagine some controversy about the ending. I thought it was risky—and well-executed. Not every story is true. And not every resident of the North Side, even the ones who have been around a long time and have seen all the changes, can be trusted. Read with your radar on high alert.