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—and grows more and more obsessed with this woman who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.
Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint.
*I was sent an ARC of this novel in exchange for an honest review – thank you to NetGalley and Del Rey Books for the chance to read this one early*
Velvet Was the Night is a lush, absorbing crime noir set against the backdrop of political unrest in Mexico City, with morally grey characters and moments of quiet beauty. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, Silvia Moreno-Garcia is definitely an auto buy / auto read author for me and this book just reinforced this once more.
I really loved the whole crime noir aspect of this novel and it reminded me of Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s shadowy atmospheric rendition of Barcelona in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series. Moreno-Garcia weaves together this complex tale of political upheaval, protests and suppression and charges it with distinct layers of suspense and intrigue which I genuinely couldn’t put down. Apart from this novel and the above mentioned series, I don’t think I’ve read noir novels before but I definitely want to continue, especially if they’re all up to this calibre.
I really enjoyed the use of dual perspective here and how Elvis and Maite’s stories are so entwined but they cross paths fleetingly, setting up for an ending which felt so poignant and deserved. I really liked both characters and how well developed they were, I empathised for them in varying degrees and was rooting for them throughout. Maite, a woman who has felt like life has passed her by, seeking refuge in the weekly instalments of the romantic and sweeping comics and the foreign records she indulges in. Elvis with his life of petty crime and getting swept up into the harsh world of the Hawks, led by the capricious El Mago. I loved how through their perspectives we see how similar these two characters are, not only do they have an appreciation for the same music, books and for seeking knowledge, at their core they share the same sense of loneliness and a desire for connection.
Tied in with these two strong characters, is the undercurrent of tension and mystery with the case of Leonora, Maite’s beautiful and enigmatic neighbour who draws her into all the misadventures. I thought the mystery was compelling and I enjoyed reading as we got to learn more about the politics and backstory behind Leonora’s disappearance and the secrets she’s trying to protect. There was also a very informative current throughout the novel, relating to the ways in which political leaning organisations and individuals, including many student groups and other dissenting voices were silenced through violence and intimidation by the authorities. I appreciated the factual section at the end of the novel which explains this in further detail and definitely taught me things about Mexican history I was not previously aware of.
I would definitely recommend this novel to fans of the crime noir genre, as well as readers who have enjoyed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s other novels and/ or readers looking for a unique and captivating story, with a strong focus on mystery and ambiguity.
Until next time,