I am a fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – see my reviews of Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, Certain Dark Things, The Beautiful Ones and Prime Meridian. So when I saw this one was available on Netgalley, I scampered across to request it and was delighted to be approved to read it…
BLURB: 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…
REVIEW: I’ve cut short the rather chatty blurb, which I think strays into Spoiler territory. I’m a huge fan of Moreno-Garcia’s writing – she is a mighty talent who makes a point of hopping across a number of genres to produce something different every time. Even more impressively, she manages to nail each genre every time, too. But I’ll confess that this time around, it was something of a battle to get through the first half of this book. It’s a noir thriller, set in a terrible time when people were being persecuted and beaten by thugs because of their political opinions. So inevitably, the mood is gritty and the main characters are trapped in circumstances beyond their control. As I’m also struggling with my own issues right now, I found it a difficult read – especially as I really cared about Maite.
Moreno-Garcia’s superpower is the way she manages to make me care about protagonists who are deeply flawed. Poor, downtrodden Maite is far too worried about what everyone else thinks. Lonely and depressed, she is also oblivious to what is going on around her. Elvis has got mixed up with a terrible organisation, having been mesmerised by a monster, and is capable of terrible acts of violence. Both of them aspire to a more glamorous life, as depicted in the films – the kind of life that missing Leonora seems to be leading. Though, despite her insecurities and ignorance of the sheer horror of what is going on around her, what stopped me from dismissing Maite as a complete loser, is the core of kindness that runs through her. And her refusal to give up trying to do the right thing.
After I got halfway through the book, the gathering pace and my fondness for Maite kept the pages turning. Moreno-Garcia’s evident talent shines through in her handling of the increasing tension, while the finale brought together all the strands of the story into a fabulous ending. Whatever you do, read the Afterword which explains the historical context of the events depicted in the book. Once more, this is a triumphant success by an outstanding author and I just wish my own circumstances had left me in a better place to be able to fully appreciate it. While I don’t normally reread books, this is one that I intend to visit again, once I’ve finally recovered from Long Covid. The ebook arc copy of Velvet Was the Night was provided by the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest opinion of the book.