Skip to main content

Velvet Was the Night


Velvet Was the Night

Renowned for her gothic horror novel MEXICAN GOTHIC and beloved for her historical romance THE BEAUTIFUL ONES, Silvia Moreno-Garcia now turns her keen eye for plot and her lyrical prose toward noir with VELVET WAS THE NIGHT.

1970s Mexico City is rife with political upheaval and social unrest. The novel kicks off with a very real telegram from the United States Department of State discussing the “Hawks,” an officially financed, organized and trained repressive group whose goal is the undermining and dismantling of leftist and anti-government groups in Mexico. On June 10, 1971, the Hawks are behind a violent protest-turned-murder-scene that starts with a group of peaceful protesting students and ends in a massacre known as El Halconazo. This is just part of the Mexican Dirty War, in which the Mexican government --- backed by the United States and the CIA --- launches a covert and unofficial, but no less deadly, battle against its own citizens, namely left-leaning students and guerrilla activists.

"Proving yet again that there is no genre she can’t master, Silvia Moreno-Garcia wows with VELVET WAS THE NIGHT, an edgy and smoky noir perfect for those who love slow burn mysteries, intricate plots and loveable antiheroes."

Such is the world into which Moreno-Garcia leads her readers, a version of Mexico City with high tensions, intrigue and the sense that someone is always watching. We first meet El Elvis, a young Hawk with few ambitions but to impress his leader, El Mago, listen to his beloved Elvis and Nancy Sinatra records, improve his vocabulary by using a dictionary to pick a “word of the day,” and enact as little violence as possible. That's not easy for a Hawk, but then there's always room for Hawks like Elvis: quiet, unassuming young men who can sneak in, crack open locks and gain intel while their bigger, more violent colleagues handle the beatings and dismemberments. But even Elvis can tell that something went wrong the night of June 10th. For one, the subleader of his group was injured and disappeared, and for another, El Mago, a previously unflappable and classy hit man, is now antsy.

Across town lives Maite, a lonely daydreaming secretary who fears that she is past her prime at 30. Though she has her own apartment and a decent job, her mother never forgets to remind her that it all means nothing without a man by her side --- and what man wants a dowdy spinster as his wife? Bored by her provincial life and blind to the terrors unfolding right in her city, Maite spends her time reading romance comics, especially Secret Romance, dreaming about the characters within them and listening to her extensive collection of records.

Maite and Elvis are drawn together when Maite’s neighbor, sultry and artistic Leonora, asks Maite to feed her cat for a weekend. Unbeknownst to Leonora, Maite is a petty thief, and though she upcharges Leonora significantly, she also relishes the chance to dig through the pretty art student’s apartment for a weekend. But when Leonora does not return as expected, and then fails to appear at the copy shop where she asks Maite to meet her with her cat, Maite is pulled into the underbelly of her town --- and closer to Elvis. Tasked with tracking Leonora’s last movements and finding the camera she was allegedly carrying with her, Elvis is stunned to see such a plain, doe-eyed woman following the same tracks. As his search for Leonora aligns with Maite’s, he starts to long for a woman like her, someone lonely like him, but blind to the violence of their town and with a passion for music and romance.

What follows is a delicious, slow burn noir drama about a city on the brink of revolution or destruction and two wildly different people caught up in one unsolvable mystery: What happened to Leonora, and how does it tie into the massacre of June 10th? With her trademark ability for worldbuilding and crafting immersive settings, Moreno-Garcia plunges her readers right into the all-consuming tension and violence of Mexico City. Trapped in a world with a government set on obedience and an amateur resistance slowly building momentum, Elvis and Maite walk among hit men, corrupt government officials, dirty cops and even Russian spies in their hunt for Leonora. But what truly unites them --- even more than their search for the truth --- is their loneliness, an emotion that Moreno-Garcia writes with gravity, believability, and a clear and obvious love for the antihero.

Elvis is a rock ‘n’ roll hero, and Maite is a daydreaming heroine. Although they approach both the political unrest of Mexico City and Leonora from very different perspectives, they recognize a kindred spirit in one another that really sets the course for their actions toward the end of the novel. Because her characters are so grounded and profoundly relatable, Moreno-Garcia can push the intrigue of the plot to its absolute limits, forcing Elvis and Maite to form a powerful alliance and make some shocking decisions about their futures.

Proving yet again that there is no genre she can’t master, Silvia Moreno-Garcia wows with VELVET WAS THE NIGHT, an edgy and smoky noir perfect for those who love slow burn mysteries, intricate plots and loveable antiheroes. My only question is: What will she do next, and how do I read it now?

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on August 27, 2021

Velvet Was the Night
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

  • Publication Date: May 3, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Noir, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Del Rey
  • ISBN-10: 0593356845
  • ISBN-13: 9780593356845