Ever since Mexican Gothic, I’ve been kind of obsessed with reading other books by Moreno-Garcia. And with varying success, I’ve found such a multi-faceted writer who has tackled so many different genres. Keep reading this book review to find out what I thought of Moreno-Garcia’s latest.
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.
(Disclaimer: I received this book from Netgalley. This has not impacted my review which is unbiased and honest.)
Before beginning Velvet Was the Night, I was so intrigued by this historical fiction noir setting. Set during the 1970s in Mexico City, after finishing, the setting has to be one of my favorite elements of the story. Not only is Moreno-Garcia able to capture the intrigue of the murder mystery, but it’s so firmly grounded in the setting. Unable to be transported anywhere else, there are deliberate details that keep you reminded of where you are. From the music to the food to the fashion, everything felt so realized and descriptive.
Another element of Velvet Was the Night which I enjoyed were the characters and specifically Elvis. Intially I thought I would like Maite more, but I felt like she showed less character development, in my opinion, than Elvis. I deeply empathized with the way that society is consistenyl trying to put Maite into a box, and how she struggles with that (especially with her family), but I found myself frustrated with her character development. On the other hand, Elvis was fascinating to me in the ways his passions and loyalty so fiercely conflicted with his job.
That and the fact that his arc as a character ended up being the most compelling for me. As a whole, Velvet Was the Night feels almost languid and at time this works for the book. Unfurling the setting and the character nuances, but at some points it felt like it dragged a little. Additionally I felt pulled through the book by wondering if Maite and Elvis would ever collide. Like living orbiting another person and you just barely miss them, and you keep watching to figure out if there will be a collision. And while that worked for most of the book, at a point I felt frustrated with its evolution.
All in all, Velvet Was the Night had a fantastic setting and character driven action. If you have been in the mood for a historical fiction – with political tension – then you should check this one out. Or if you love the idea of detailed and intricate character work. While I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, I ended up enjoying so many elements.