Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – REVIEW

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.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Quercus.
Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

“He didn’t like beating people. El Elvis realised this was ironic considering his line of work. Imagine that: a thug who wanted to hold his punches.”

This is my favourite book from Silvia Moreno-Garcia after The Beautiful Ones. Set in 1970s Mexico City, the author evokes a sultry and sensual atmosphere. This is pulp fiction noir at its best, cleverly employing the tropes of the genre to create something new and unforgettable. 

Written from the perspectives of El Elvis, an enforcer who dislikes violence, and Maite, a secretary who lives vicariously via romances, both characters yearn for more from their lives, sharing a love of music and reading. When Maite’s glamorous neighbour Leonora goes missing along with some politically sensitive photographs, El Elvis and Maite both conduct investigations into her disappearance, with events inevitably drawing them closer and closer together. As is to be expected from this genre, the characters are morally flawed and complex. There are gradations of morality and ambiguity to most of the characters and a sense of grittiness to them. 

“She had stolen before…but it had never given her joy…It had taken her a while to figure out that what she sought was not the object in question, but the thrill of possessing a secret.”

The backdrop of the mystery revolves around the social and political unrest of the time and the suppression of left-wing protestors by the government. It opens with the massacre of El Halconazo in 1971 and also references the Tlatelolco massacre in 1968. In my ignorance, I knew very little about this period of Mexico’s history but it was fascinating and terrifying in equal measure and I plan to research more around this subject.

“She existed in isolation, standing in front of a stark, white background. Some people are made to be lonely.”

The author also explores the prevalent sexism and outright assault suffered by women in their everyday lives and works this into the story well to enhance the plot. The narrative is inherently meta, referring frequently to the construction of stories and romances in particular and framing events in this light. Velvet Was the Night was a refreshing change of pace and one I look forward to rereading. It would make an incredible film and I’d love to see it adapted one day.

(Goodreads | Amazon UK | Book Depository |

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