Velvet Was the Night is the newest novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, author of the bestselling horror book Mexican Gothic. Published through Del Rey, this slice of noir explores the historical significance of the horrors of 1970s Mexico at the start of the Dirty War. Using this historical framework, Moreno-Garcia introduces readers to two completely different protagonists whose lives eventually become intertwined through the disappearance of a mysterious and beautiful art student.
Noirs are character-focused narratives with action sprinkled in. What sells this simmering one is the absolute delight of Moreno-Garcia’s characters. We have Maite, a 30-year-old secretary who lives in an apartment that is too expensive. She hates her job but it is comfortable in the life she has made for herself. She is sick of her self-described boring life and leans into her fantastical daydreams through her favorite romance comics and records. She is oblivious to the real-world politics within her city and begins to open her eyes when Leonora, her next-door neighbor disappears. It’s so easy to see one’s self in Maite as she chooses to be adventurous and puts her life at stake navigating the dangers of aligning with political rebels to find Leonora.
Our other protagonist is a man named Elvis (after Elvis Presley) who works for The Hawkes. This is a paramilitary group whose work is utilized by the Mexican government to flag down protestors fighting for societal change. It is through Elvis where readers get to navigate the Dirty War. Elvis loves his rock ‘n’ roll music and has to keep it a secret since the government is censoring music. Rock music is said to be communist propaganda and it pains Elvis that the only solace he finds from his work is through art that he cannot share with others. He is tired of the bloodlust and the pain associated with the high turmoil within the city. Political tensions are high and his friends are constantly dying. Elvis is also a daydreamer in his own right. He seeks to leave his position in the Hawkes but doesn’t know where to go or what to do. He is stranded by himself, involved on the side of politics that goes against his heart.
The drive of both of these characters makes Velvet Was the Night an addictive and quick read. As the mystery narrative picks up, multiple layers begin to unravel. Moreno-Garcia’s pacing is methodical with her cookie crumbs approach to finding Leonora. New characters slowly work their way into both Maite and Elvis’s lives. We meet fully fleshed out, unique people like Rubén, an ex-boyfriend of Leonora who becomes an amateur detective alongside Maite. It is with him we see Maite come out of her shell and witness her understanding of the world through new eyes.
In addition to the wonderfully written and interesting characters, the writing is smooth and lyrical, often reflecting the importance of music within the characters. The luscious writing is what sells the atmosphere. It’s like the words embody a wispy smoke surrounding the sad, lonely world of people attempting to make connections with others. The pacing is much slower compared to a thriller, which is typical of the noir genre, but when the action does arise, it strikes with precision. I felt myself wanting to simply keep reading—Moreno-Garcia’s writing is so captivating.
Velvet Was the Night is a must-read novel. Wrapped in this noir is the valuable historical context for the Dirty War in 1970s Mexico which Moreno-Garcia carefully explains and provides readers in an easy and accessible way, including an afterword further explaining the history. Through daydreaming and lonely characters with a knack for solving mysteries, this genre novel leaves you wanting to encounter a mystery of your own.
Velvet Was the Night is available everywhere books are sold now.
Velvet Was the Night
Through daydreaming and lonely characters with a knack for solving mysteries, this genre novel leaves you wanting to encounter a mystery of your own.