REVIEW: Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

In brief: Maite’s life revolves around music and romance comics. Elvis is part of a secret gang to bringdown student protests. When they both get involved with a missing student, it makes things way more dramatic.

The good: I didn’t know a lot about the politics of Mexico City in the 70s before this.

The not-so-good: Maite and Elvis’ lives are separate for 90% of the book.

Why I chose it: Loved Mexican Gothic (and the cover of this novel).

Year: 2021

Pages: 284

Publisher: Jo Fletcher Books (Hachette)

Setting: Mexico City

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

The first thing you should know about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novels is that they are wildly different across genres and stories. While Velvet was the Night doesn’t reach the dizzying sense of urgency of Mexican Gothic, it’s unfair to compare the two. This is a smart, interesting noir set in 1970s Mexico City with more than a few history lessons as the city is in political turmoil.

There are two main characters, Maite and Elvis, who don’t meet until the very end of the novel. Their storylines are separate but linked, so it sort of feels like a dual narrative. Maite is the relative innocent in the whole thing. She’s a secretary with a thing for music and Secret Romance comic books, who mainly lives in her head because the real world isn’t that exciting for her. She’s being badgered by her family to get married, give up her car and settle down. She lives pay check to pay check, and is rather unknowledgeable when it comes to current events. (There’s a lot going on politically during the course of the book as students protest and political unrest continues, while various government departments seem to work in opposition to each other). Elvis is part of a secret, government approved group (the Hawks) who are there to bring the students back into line. It’s a bloody, secretive business. But then Maite’s neighbour goes missing and word has it that she has some film containing damning photos of the government. Elvis’s boss puts him in charge of finding Leonora, while Maite just wants the money promised by Leonora and to stop looking after her cat. Both of them get tangled up with a lot more than they expect, involving corruption, spies and those who are determined for this to all blow over…

Velvet was the Night is more a slow burn, which is fitting with the noir style. I must admit not to knowing a lot about the politics of Mexico during that time, but a quick internet search was helpful in understanding what was going on. I didn’t find Maite overly likeable – she’s looking for pity to extricate herself from her own messes (e.g. not being able to afford the repairs on her car) but she was fascinating to read about. Elvis, even though his line of work is really just thug, was a lot more likeable. Perhaps it was the way he styled himself after Elvis Presley and was able to separate his job from his enjoyment of music. I did like reading about the close misses and Maite’s eyes opening to the unrest and corruption going on locally. As the stakes got higher and higher, my interest grew. I did like the twists at the end. While the ending is kind of open, I thought it was befitting of the novel. Moreno-Garcia writes well as always, painting a clear picture of the scene and having well-fleshed out characters. I’m looking forward to reading other novels from her in different genres.

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