Is there any genre that Silvia Moreno-Garcia cannot write? I remember being glued to my Kindle last summer as I anxiously read Mexican Gothic, captivated by the mysterious gothic horror fantasy. This time she had me hooked with the historical noir novel that I did not know I needed.
Velvet Was the Night is a New Classic Slowburn Noir Novel
Set in 1970s Mexico City, an unassuming secretary finds herself caught in the middle of intense political unrest. If only she hadn’t agreed to watch her neighbor’s cat. Maite is an endearing and relatable protagonist — all she wants to do is go home, listen to a playlist of the best 1960s records, and get swept away in her favorite romance graphic novel Secret Romance. Those tales of romance and intrigue, in part, fuel her own foray into the mystery unfolding across the hall from her apartment.
You see, her neighbor, Lenora — who Maite barely knows — has gotten herself embroiled in some serious political intrigue that Maite finds herself pulled into when Lenora ups and vanishes.
Maite isn’t the only protagonist whose point of view brings Velvet Was the Night to life. Elsewhere in Mexico City, Elvis grapples with the violent lifestyle he has chosen for himself. He has had a series of bad hands dealt to him, which led him into the employment of the Hawks — the violent paramilitary group who also happen to be looking for Lenora. Elvis has serious issues with the violence that his job involves and, as his fellow Hawks refer to him, he’s a bit of a marshmallow. His idea of a good time is listening to his favorite record and smoking a nice cigarette, not punching someone in the kidney.
I knew next to nothing about the real-world events unfolding around Maite and Elvis, but Moreno-Garcia masterfully explained the complex historical elements without making anyone feel silly for not knowing about The Corpus Christi Massacre or the Mexican Dirty War.
While Velvet Was the Night is wholly unlike Moreno-Garcia’s previous novels, it possesses all of the key components that make her books such a wondrous experience. Maite and Elvis both feel like hopeless romantics, caught in the depths of a familiar loneliness as they look for love in all the wrong places. Through their dual points of view, we see threads of commonality in not only their music taste but their personalities.
These threads are interwoven masterfully throughout the conflict and strife as the mystery unravels around them. Moreno-Garcia’s characters always feel like real people that could walk through the door at any moment. You learn so much about their likes and dislikes, flaws and perfections, that by the time you reach the last page you mourn the profound loss of their voices on the page.
The best part of Velvet Was the Night? Penguin Random House has a playlist on their Spotify for this book and it is… simply perfection. I listened to it while I read the novel, shuffling to the right songs as they were mentioned in the text. It brought the story to life like the soundtrack of a gritty noir film.
Velvet Was the Night is out on August 17, 2021.