Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: A review
Mexican Gothic is a bit of a departure for her. This is a noir mystery/political thriller/historical fiction set in the Mexican Dirty War of the 1970s when the PRI-led government sought to quash dissent and protest by any means available to them. Some of the protesters disappeared during this period, never to be heard from again.
The story is told through two characters, the first being Maite, a clerical worker in Mexico City who is addicted to stories of romance in a magazine called "Secret Romance." She waits impatiently for each new issue of the magazine and then loses herself in it, devouring the stories and reimagining her life through them. She is essentially oblivious to all the political unrest roiling her city in those years.
Maite's across the hall neighbor at her apartment building is a beautiful art student called Leonora. Leonora is fully involved in the protest movement. When she calls Maite and asks her to feed her cat for a few days while she is out of town, Maite doesn't question anything about where she is or what she is doing. She's only too happy to have access to Leonora's apartment because she has a dirty little secret. She often takes care of neighbors' pets when they are away and she always takes the opportunity to steal something from them. Usually, it is something inconsequential, something they'll never miss, but it is like a trophy for her. So, even though she doesn't like cats, she welcomes the chance to get into Leonora's apartment. When she spies a broken and mended figurine lying next to a garbage can, she figures it is something that is unwanted and will not be missed and she takes it.
The days pass and Leonora contacts Maite once again and tells her that she's been delayed and asks her to keep taking care of the cat, for which she's happy to pay her. She continues going to the apartment every day but receives no word that Leonora is returning. She finally becomes curious and looks around trying to find out where Leonora is and what she's up to.
As she searches, someone else who is looking for Leonora observes her from a distance. Elvis is a shadowy figure, a member of a quasi-governmental group called the Hawks that exists to surveil, suppress, and quash the left-wing student uprisings and activism that is growing in the capital. The leader of the group assigned Elvis to find Leonora and get some photographs that she has in her possession. Apparently, those photographs could create some embarrassment for the government.
In watching Maite, Elvis learns a lot about her and learns that they share interests in old movies and in music. He is intrigued by her. As we follow these two around, we come to realize that they are two very lonely people who have more in common than an interest in Leonora's whereabouts.
Both of these characters are well-developed by the author. They are very relatable, people that the reader can care about, which always helps a story along in my opinion. Moreover, Moreno-Garcia's pacing of her plot and the exposition kept my interest from flagging as it sometimes does along towards the final third of a book. I liked this one better than Mexican Gothic. And by the way, who chooses the covers for Moreno-Garcia's books? Whoever it is, I want him or her to choose one for me when I write my book!
My rating: 4 of 5 stars