Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: A review

 

The latest book from the author of 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

Comments

  1. I thought Mexican Gothic was pretty well-written, and I liked it, but I didn't love it, especially the ending. It's good to know you liked this one better. Maite does sound like an interesting character.

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    1. That was pretty much my reaction to Mexican Gothic as well. I wanted to love it and just...didn't

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  2. Yeah cool book cover! I'm glad you liked this one better than her first. I have this one on my list and I'm glad the story didn't flag or lag for you. Her settings seem good.

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    1. Yeah, it did maintain my interest throughout, and she does a good job of bringing the settings to life.

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  3. I love the sound of this one. "dirty little secret?" now I'm even more curious to try this one. I haven't read Mexican Gothic but, I don't think it matters.

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    1. No, it doesn't matter. They are two entirely different books.

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  4. Your review is impeccable as always, Dorothy. On a totally different note I just read a whole editorial piece on cities in Texas removing books from libraries that deal even tangentially with issues of sexuality or race, and I thought of you immediately, and how horrified you must be. A parent group in one district is advocating replacing each volume with a bible - so sex or racism in there! If banning books under whatever guise is not a classic feature of fascism I don't know what is. Keep an eye out for your invitation to a public book burning coming soon to somewhere near you. If the righteous folks organizing it don't know how to do it there are lots of videos of the Nazis burning books so they have a template on line.

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  5. That should read "no sex or racism....."

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    1. I'm not on the friend list of the book burners so I doubt I'll receive an invitation from them, but you are right: Fascism is on the ascendant and not just in Texas. And here I always thought my father and his generation fought a war to defeat such ideas. It turns out ideas, even reprehensible ones, are stubborn things and are not easily defeated.

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  6. Yes! Her covers are always stunning! I've yet to even read this author but I really need to!

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    1. The covers are almost worth the price of the book!

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  7. a different sort of plot... i lived in Mexico for a year (Chihuahua) and altho i never had any trouble with the authorities, the Mexican members of the orchestra warned me to stay away from the police...

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    1. Mexican police certainly do not have the best of reputations and, at least in the past, that was well-deserved. I'm not sure if the situation has improved in recent years.

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  8. You've just reminded me that I have Mexican Gothic waiting to be read. This does sound like a good one.

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    1. As I said, I liked this one better than Mexican Gothic but your reaction may be different.

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  9. After reading your review, my curiosity is overwhelming.

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  10. Despite the big splash it made at the time, I never did get around to reading Mexican Gothic. For a while it seemed that that spectacular cover was everywhere I looked. Sounds like maybe I should read this one instead because Moreno-Garcia is an author I'm still curious about.

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    1. Everybody and their dog seemed to love Mexican Gothic. I didn't hate it but my reaction was decidedly mixed.

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  11. I am so glad you reviewed this because it is one I have been wondering about. I will definitely be picking it up now.

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    1. I don't think you'll be disappointed. There is quite a lot to like about it.

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