Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Gus Corral Reaches His Stride

Review: Manuel Ramos. Angels In The Wind: A Mile High Noir. Houston: Arte Público Press, 2021. ISBN:  978-1-55885-920-3 Publication Date:  April 30, 2021

Michael Sedano


There is no frigate like a book, and there is no anchor like an e-book. 


I’ve been struggling for a couple months with books on my computer screen. Maybe it’s age, or impatience with technology, but my eyes cannot abide the rasterized page. I lose my place on the screen page, then can’t find my way back again and have to start reading from the top again like a teevee re-run until I find my place.


I like the screen page of my iPhone, curiously. I read Moby Dick and the Odyssey waiting for medical procedures last year on my phone. The big computer screen doesn’t serve except locational.


I plug my computer next to a heater vent so my spavined limbs get a bit of comfort when it’s cold all day despite the brilliant California sunshine. If I have a fire going I can’t go sit next to it without uncoupling the device to weigh anchor. If I want to sit near a sunny window in a different room and read, the anchor fixes me in that warm chair, scrolling the page and getting lost.


Today, I thank the Post Office and Arte Público Press for the manuscript I hold in my hands. I sit in the bright sunlight in the warming day, angle the book just right out of the glare that would totally defeat a laptop screen. Making my reading experience more complete, the manuscript is Manuel Ramos’ upcoming Gus Corral mystery, Angels In The Wind: A Mile High Noir (link), and it’s a genuine page-turner. 


Ramos hits his stride with his Gus Corral character in this novel of teenage runaways, small town culture, ugly bad guys, and if you pretend it’s not a murder mystery, the reveal near the end of the novel works delightfully. Readers of the earlier Gus Corral novels will be happy to meet this introspective, no-nonsense problem-solver who doesn't get himself into deep caca by rushing into stuff.


Corral’s introspection comes with a sentimental, nostalgic ring to it. As an authorial nostalgia, Ramos delivers a farewell to his Luis Montez character. At the same time, Ramos bids authorial farewell to Rudy Anaya, ¡Presente!, when Corral says he’s no Sonny Baca.


Ramos drives the plot with Gus’ observations as he thinks out loud, connecting dots. A lot of dots: The habitual runaway; Desperate familia; The hometown love affair; Teenage angst; Anti-raza racism; Mysterious outsider; Human trafficking; Good, decent cops who for once don’t want to kick Gus’ ass for him; Our badly damaged hero.


Recuperating from a beating with a baseball bat, the novel begins with Gus working at keeping his mind organized. Ramos presents a great lesson for writers in not wasting any details. When Gus meets the missing boy’s family, he doesn’t object when he notices the grandmother’s dismissive relationship in her home. Gus also notes a rifle and ammunition within reach of one another. Out in the country, Gus reasons, people have different standards. 


In a world of contrasts, the story of a missing teen gets its deus ex machina from the oldest character, a nice plot twist. More, featuring elders in prime roles comes straight out of a Sonny Baca novel, whose elderly sidekicks play key roles.


Privacy looms as a highly valued standard in this small Colorado town. Gus the investigator raises hackles by invading even his primo prima’s private thoughts. Yet, everyone in town knows Gus, his purpose, his truck, his questions. And they want him to go away.


Privacy, of course, comes as the controlling trope of mystery novels. Criminals don’t want to get caught. Gus peels away the veneer of privacy to expose not just the murder readers expect all along, but petty small town corruption motivated by redemption. One is redeemed, another is discovered to be a rapist.


Even though murder mysteries revolve around taking lives, detective novels should have happy endings at their center. Here we have several: the boy located; the real crime discovered; evil men killed; uppity Anglos get a come-uppence; familia whole; a broken father's justice.

Much of Angels In The Wind: A Mile High Noir takes place in the underworld of teenage runaways and exploitative adults. This is not the stuff of happy endings, even with dead bad guys. For homeless kids, there are no happy endings, and in this story, no happy ending-- not for the runaway primo, not Jeannie, the waif whose story evaporates in the denoument, not even an afterthought.That's a homeless girl's end. So it goes.


Is that noir, setting an underworld where there’s no hope? It’s reality. Gus can’t solve anyone’s problem on the streets. Ramos uses the setting to underline the intractable problem. The author minimizes tear-jerking narrative, offering the ethos of the passionate shelter director who refuses to divulge any morsel of what she knows. Runaway kids are an urban fact, deserving, lovely people like the girl called Jeannie, live out there on their own, no one’s solving anything. That’s noir, que no?


And in the end, this boy of such potential who was too bright a light for his small town, he was murdered over the most tawdry of motives. Puro noir.






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