This Writer Gal

Kakul Ehsan Butt

Velvet was the night

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Spoilers ahead!

Using the real life events of Mexico’s dirty war during the 70s and inspired by Mexican Noir writers, the author creates a fictional story of a young woman called Maite, who finds herself on the wrong side of the tracks, while searching for her missing neighbour. Along the way she meets people who know her missing neighbour and gets pulled into a dangerous world filled with activists, CIA, KGB, and local thugs working for the government.

Then there is Elvis, a local thug, also looking for Maite’s neighbour. Like Maite, he loves music. He names himself after Elvis Presley, though we never learn his real name. Throughout the book, there are many references to music, and this is a nod to the government’s ban on rock music, which also extended to American bands. While a likeable character, he is not the most original. There is a sense of familiarity with this type of character, possessing a grey moral compass. He is a dutiful foot soldier but wants to leave behind the world of crime.

Based on the books I have previously read of Silvia Moreno-Garcia; the author tends to create main female characters that fall into the “not like other girls” category. While it worked in the Mexican Gothic and The Beautiful Ones, it falls short here. Maite is unlikeable, who steals, lies, is superficial and quite vapid. She has no appeal or any redeeming factor that would make the readers feel any empathy for her. But it is interesting to figure out why Maite is the way she is and what had made her this way. Her interaction with her mother tells the readers that her mother is much closer to her sister than Maite. Maite has no friends and likes to embellish stories of her dating life to her work colleague, just to impress her.

In a typical Silvia Moreno-Garcia fashion, the book cover does not disappoint and has a glamourous woman giving off a cool 70s vibe. I did wonder about the woman on the cover and decided that it must be Leonora, Maite’s missing neighbour. It sort of makes sense to have Leonora as a front cover, since she is the one who kickstarts the entire story and has Maite looking for her. She is also someone Maite envies. She has the look, the style, the coolness, and the attention of men that Maite wishes to have. But this is just a surface level superficiality that Maite has and the book cover perhaps shows how Maite views Leonora.

This book will appeal to anyone who likes noir, especially historical noir. For those unfamiliar with noir, should expect the story to be a slow burn, with action picking up half-way through the book.

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