Book: “Velvet Was the Night” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publishing Info: Del Rey, August 2021
Where Did We Get This Book: Received an eARC from NetGalley, received an eARC from Edelweiss+.
Book Description: From the New York Times bestselling author of Mexican Gothic comes a “delicious, twisted treat for lovers of noir” about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome enforcer, and the mystery of a missing woman they’re both desperate to find.
1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.
Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.
Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance—and grows more and more obsessed with this woman who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.
Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint.
Velvet Was the Night is an edgy, simmering historical novel for lovers of smoky noirs and anti-heroes.
I remember noting in one of my early Moreno-Garcia reads that she’s a unique author in that she seems to jump from genre to genre with ease. It’s truly something rare, I believe, as most authors have a defined genre within they operate comfortably. Sherry Thomas is another favorite author of mine who comes to mind with this shared ability. But Moreno-Garcia takes it to a new level. I’ve read a Gothic horror, a Regency romance, a Mexican folktale fantasy, and now here I am reviewing a noir! At the very least, she’s single-handedly expanding my horizons in my genre reading!
One thing that does remain consistent between her books is her love of featuring duel/multiple POVs in her books. Here we experience the story from both an inside and outside perspective. On one hand, we have Maite, an introverted young woman who leads a quiet life reading her beloved romance novels before getting drawn into the mysterious disappearance of her neighbor Leonora. And on the other, we have Elvis, a gang member who works with the Hawks, an organization that works to quell political dissenters. He is interested in Leonora’s disappearance for very different reasons.
There was much to love about this book, from its exploration of the deep loneliness found in two characters leading very different lives, to the vivid painting of life in Mexico during this period of history. I knew only a little about what was going on during this time, so I was particularly interested in seeing Moreno-Garcia’s take on that situation. Elvis’s storyline, in particular, presented a unique take on these events, coming from the inside of the Hawk organization itself.
But her strengths have always been her characters and the strong, atmospheric worlds she sets them loose in. Here, both Maite and Elvis, while very, very different characters, were equally compelling. Their stories weave together slowly and with attention given to the inner workings of each character and the arcs they are covering. I don’t read a lot of noirs, but I believe this slower-paced storytelling is a specific aspect of the genre, and it blends perfectly with Moreno-Garcia’s love of careful character building.
Overall, I really enjoyed this book. I think I ultimately still prefer her other books that had supernatural/fantasy elements involved, but that’s also just very inline with my own reading tendencies. Fans of noirs and historical fiction, I’m sure, will gobble this up, but I recommend it to readers of all genres,
Boy oh boy, I am consistently blown away by how good Silvia Moreno-Garcia is at seamlessly slipping into a new genre with every book I read, and while I always hope that she will come back for more horror and thriller elements as time goes on, I do like a good mystery. I’m not as in tune with the Noir subgenre as I am other mystery subgenres, but I do enjoy a good Noir film every now and again. Because of this, I was eager to read her new Noir novel, “Velvet Was the Night”
Serena touches on a lot of the same things I liked about this book in her review, so I’ll try not to repeat her too much. I also enjoyed both of our protagonists Maite and Elvis, and their very different backgrounds and motivations for finding Leonora. Maite gets pulled into it because 1) she was watching the woman’s cat, and 2) the mystery is exciting, and her life is decidedly not. Elvis, on the other hand, works for a secret group that crushes political dissenters, and Leonora is involved in student activism. The elements of an intricate mystery are there as they both go on the search and find out a lot about her life and how it fits into the landscape of 1970s Mexico City. I liked both Maite for her somewhat naïveté laced personality and the dark and dangerous journey she takes, and I liked Elvis and how, even though he works for a group of suppressive fascists, he has his own bits of rebellion as he, too, goes on a journey on self discovery. They both feel confined to their existences, and start to realize that there could be more.
And it’s really the time and place that worked the best for me in this story. I have no little knowledge of Mexican history, so a lot of this felt like I was learning a bit about an area I knew little about as we went on the journey. I found myself looking up information about Luis Echeverría Álvarez and El Halconazo as I was reading the book just to educate myself some more, and it made the political dissent angle all the more interesting to me. I love how Moreno-Garcia pulled a Noir story out of a setting that you don’t see within the subgenre all that often, at least in my experience. Some of the details and allusions to that theme were very unsettling, and wove in an entire lower level of dread that the Hawks were going to catch up with Maite, Rubén, and Leonora and then all hell would break loose.
“Velvet Was the Night” is a well done new Noir mystery that is sure to entertain mystery fans. Hats off to Moreno-Garcia for once again doing a great job with a new genre!
Kate’s Rating 8: A taut mystery, fun characters, and a unique setting made “Velvet Was the Night” a fun noir mystery that I enjoyed quite a bit.