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Velvet Was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

book cover of Velvet Was the Night

Velvet Was the Night is a noir historical novel set in Mexico City in 1971, just at the beginning of that country’s Dirty War. Basically, there’s this rich girl (Leonora) who has some connections with student radicals. She asks one of the novel’s POV characters, Maite, to watch her cat while she’s out of town for a couple of days, and then she never comes back and a frustrated Maite is forced to try to track her down. The other POV character, Elvis, is a hired thug paid to bash protestors and track down Leonora, himself. With the setting it has and a clear mystery to solve you might think that this book would be enjoyable, but sadly overall it was not (even though it got better towards the end).

The main problem is that both the POV characters are insufferable. Elvis is actually slightly better, despite being a thug for the right wing. Maite is painful to read about. She’s self-centred, willfully oblivious, constantly sulking, not above grifting people, and completely obsessed with some series of romance comic books that she forces me, as the reader, to hear about ad nauseum. She only got tolerable in the last quarter of the book once she finally got some action.

Like I said, Elvis wasn’t as bad. Towards the end of the novel, it dawns on him that there’s no job security (or you know… life security) as a thug-for-hire, and he gets a moment of redemption at the end. But like Maite, he is still ultimately pretty self-absorbed and willfully oblivious. And on top of that, he also runs around torturing and killing people. Top bloke really, lol.

There weren’t really any highlights among the side characters, either. Rubén, Leonora’s ex-boyfriend who teams up with Maite to search for her together, was OK. I found this book tough going for the first half (after that, I didn’t make the time to read any further for half a week…). It got better in the second, increasingly so towards the end, but not enough to make me feel better about the first half.

Not sure if I should try reading any more of Silvia Moreno-Garcia at this point. I loved Mexican Gothic, but this and Gods of Jade and Shadow have been disappointing. I could try more, but I feel like I’ve already tried the most promising-looking ones, and at what point should I conclude I’m chasing the dragon? I have so many other books on my TBR list… IDK, I’m not going to rule out ever cycling back to her, but I don’t think it’ll be for a while, if ever.

★★½

a cartoony avatar of Jessica Smith is a socialist and a feminist who loves animals, books, gaming, and cooking; she’s also interested in linguistics, history, technology and society.