About the Book:
1970s Mexico City: while student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite seeks escape from her humdrum life in the stories of passion and danger filling the latest issue of Secret Romance.
She is deeply envious of her neighbour, a beautiful art student apparently living the life of excitement and intrigue Maite craves – so when Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman, journeying deep into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.
But 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. Watching Maite from a distance, he comes to see her as a kindred spirit who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.
As Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the dangers threatening to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents and Russian spies all aiming to find or protect Leonora’s secrets – at gunpoint.
Velvet Was the Night: an edgy, passionate, simmering noir thriller from a writer at the very top of her game.
Published by Jo Fletcher Books
Released 17th August 2021
I haven’t come across another author who is as much of a changeling when it comes to style as Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Each of her books vary in genre but each of them are so good. Whenever I approach a new book by her, I simply expect the unexpected and I’m never disappointed. Her latest release, Velvet Was the Night, is a pulp fiction political gangster novel set in Mexico City, 1970. Here’s some historical context about what inspired it from the author herself.
‘One Thursday in 1971, a shock group funded and organized by the Mexican government attacked a group of students marching through a large avenue in Mexico City. The Hawks (Los Halcones) had been trained by Mexican authorities with support of the CIA in an effort to squelch communism in Mexico and suppress dissent. Hundreds of protesters were injured or killed during what became known as El Halconazo or the Corpus Christi Massacre. President Luis Echeverría and local authorities, including Mexico City’s regent, Alfonso Martínez Domínguez, denied the existence of the Hawks or shifted the blame. As a result of this attack, simmering guerrilla action in Mexico increased, as incensed students decided that one could not reason with the authorities. Meanwhile, the Hawks were disbanded. However, repressive action against activists and guerrilla fighters did not cease. Through a group known as the Brigada Blanca, the government abducted, tortured, incarcerated, and murdered Mexican citizens during the decade of the 1970s. This was known as the Dirty War (Guerra Sucia).’ – Author note.
The story is told in alternate chapters through the perspectives of Maite, a thirty-year-old legal secretary who is obsessed with romance graphic novels and American music, while moonlighting as a petty thief, and Elvis, a twenty-three-year-old reluctant thug who also loves American music and books, but who is a member of the Hawks gang. This isn’t a good girl meets bad boy romance novel, not by a long shot. When Maite agrees to take care of her neighbour’s cat for a couple of days, she is unwittingly drawn into a dangerous political situation when her neighbour disappears. All Maite is initially concerned with is getting her money for pet sitting; her car is stuck at the mechanic and she needs to pay the overdue bill. But her loose involvement with her missing neighbour puts a target on her and Elvis’s crew are sent in for surveillance, however, they are not the only group watching her. Her neighbour was in possession of some explosive evidence that more than one group want to get a hold of, and they all believe that Maite is now the keeper of it.
Through this novel, we get a glimpse of Mexico City in the 1970s, the political unrest, the fear of ‘commies’ and ‘reds’, the violence against students, the guerrilla warfare in wider Mexico, the tousle between gangs and the political corruption. And then we also see, through Maite’s life, the Mexico of the ordinary working woman, young, looking for a husband while also relishing her own independence, even if it does come with the price of a boring job and an expensive apartment. Maite really grew on me throughout the course of the novel, as did Elvis, both with their quirks and awkwardness, and I felt for them both, the situations they had each found themselves to be in. I really liked the ending of this novel, the hopeful promise of a new beginning for each of them. It was lovely. The novel does get quite violent as it progresses, think Pulp Fiction meets The Godfather with a bit of Taxi Driver thrown in. As the pace picks up towards the end and violence increases, there is some chaos in the action, but I never found it difficult to follow and I liked the twist towards the end when one person’s true identity was revealed – I hadn’t suspected a thing and it was a real gamechanger.
Velvet Was the Night is an engrossing novel that had me captivated from the beginning. I love this window into Mexico that I get to peer through each time I read a novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia, particularly as she sets each of her novels in a different era. I recommend this one to those who like to read crime stories set within a political context, but with fully fleshed out characters that you get the chance to become invested in. This novel has all the all the feels of a gangster film. I loved it.
Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.