Review: Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

cover of Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-GarciaVelvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Del Rey (August 2021)
288 pages; hardcover $14; paperback $20.48; e-book $13.99
Reviewed by Haley Newlin

They were both angry at the world, that was why this was happening. It was a kiss of scorpions, both heavy with poison.

Once again, Silvia Moreno-Garcia exhibits the versatility of her eloquent storytelling in her noir/pulp fiction novel Velvet Was the Night.

Though Velvet Was the Night is not a horror story, I still had to let Moreno-Garcia drag me into the ravenous and discordant era of the Dirty War (1970s Mexico City). Everything from being a college student to listening to rock music triggered the Mexican government to stalk and harm anyone even passively hinting at communist ideals.

The story follows two core characters — Maite, a secretary who leads a routine, mundane life, lonely. But she spins a contrasting tale to her co-workers. To them, Maite lives a blissful life, full of young love and high-society outings — all borrowed from romance comics she spends hours consuming. I have to admit here, I never found Maite as likable as other Moreno-Garcia characters in the past (such as Noemi in Mexican Gothic).

But, Elvis, a semi-trained operative who works for El Mago — a high-class criminal and ambiguous man — was undoubtedly a redeemable counterpart. Elvis and his partners, called the Hawks, beat, harassed, and surveilled student activists and anyone else with connections to a “pro-communist agenda.”

The two cross paths when Elvis is assigned to find a young artist named Leonora, who reportedly has photos of the attack on students — an event that later became known as the Corpus Christi Massacre.

Incidentally, Maite is cat-sitting for Leonora. When the artist doesn’t return, Maite unknowingly stumbles into an underground sort of war with the secret police, the Hawks, the KGB, and student revolutionaries.

Maite and Elvis are both yanked into a dark, chaotic world of violence and cruelty in the name of “loyalty.” While they’d both rather be somewhere quiet, reading and listening to some of their favorite records like “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” “Elanor Rigby,” and others (many of which the two seemingly opposites have in common).

The horrific death toll and mass violence made this historical story genuinely feel, at times, like classic horror — the kind that made us fear the ugly things people do out of fear.

Moreno-Garcia once again demonstrates that she is a class act in creating a twisted, fast-paced enigma regardless of genre and with plenty of style.

Velvet Was the Night screams suspenseful brilliance in a lush noir style reminiscent of the one and only Agatha Christie.

Whatever your go-to is, in this novel, Moreno-Garcia will grab you by your heels and drag you into the catacombs of political crime and the misadventures of finding a true sense of self in a time of war.

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