Velvet Was the Night
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.
Velvet Was the Night is an edgy, simmering historical novel for lovers of smoky noirs and anti-heroes.
Publisher: Del Rey
Publication Date: August 17th 2021
Blood/Gore Depiction, Torture, Assault, Stalking, Death
Considering this was my first introduction into the noir genre, I’m saddened by the fact that this? wasn’t? my thing?
Now, keeping in mind I didn’t know much about the Mexican Dirty War going into this, if I’m honest, I do feel like doing your research on the war would greatly help with your appreciation of the story and enhance the overall reading experience. Garcia doesn’t walk you through it, the story dives straight into the events. However, my issues have nothing to do with my lack of knowledge of the setting at all.
“Maite understood little, but she grasped this: that beneath banal phrases and appeals to the good of the nation something dangerous simmered.”
With the 1970’s environment and the slow pacing, that wasn’t an issue. As we know, I actually love a slower burn of a read. There’s a bit of violence, which again, wasn’t something that had bothered me— that’s just a requirement of war. And the setting of the Mexican Dirty War was intriguing, it got me into doing some deep diving into the historical event, which is always a plus. My main issues with the book was primarily the characters. But I’ll get into them shortly.
As I’ve mentioned above, I can’t say much of the genre, this would be a first for me. I’m not going to say I’m not a fan, but I will say it was a struggle to get through this one. Around 30% I started skim reading which…. isn’t great? But then also, stakes weren’t exactly the highest either? I’m sorry, in terms of the mystery aspect, I clocked it very early on. I mean, almost instantaneously. The twist was so predictable it was upsetting.
“Love, frail as gossamer, stitched together from a thousand songs and a thousand comic books, made of the dialogue spoken in films and the posters designed by ad agencies: love was what she lived for.”
Speaking of upsetting, I’m under the preconceived notion that a slower read = heavier character development. Which of course, leads me to our two main characters—
❥ Elvis— a 21 year old agent tasked with making sure nothing the government is doing gets out into the press. Someone without a name, who loves rock and roll, someone who doesn’t like violence but knows it’s the only way he’ll survive. This isn’t saying much but I did prefer his POV— not because there was a bit more action, but because he gave us a little insight on how this war affects those forced to fight on the opposing side. That and his character had potential. I was intrigued, but his delving into felt a bit rushed.
❥ Maite— a 30 year woman with low self esteem and a mundane life, someone who embellishes encounters she’s had with people to make her day to day seem exciting, someone who loses herself in romance comics. Compared to Elvis who was in the action, I was anticipating enjoying the slower paced POV of someone who is a bit removed from politics, a bit ignorant of what’s happening in the world and is learning how ugly it can be….. and I didn’t get that? By the end she didn’t seem that much changed— traumatized? Sure? But changed? Evolved? I did not get that.
I don’t know, Garcia’s books are known to be slow-burners with heavy emphasis on the characters and how they move the plot forward but… when the characters aren’t doing it for me it’s not helping any case.
That and the strange romantic undertones that happened here was also awkward. This absolutely is NOT a romance, yet as I sat on the book I’ve come to an understanding of how that comes into play with how Maite is as a character and her development… except no, it did nothing for development and she ended up in the same in that regard by the end. It felt rushed, underdeveloped, like there was a finish line that needed to be crossed and we’re missing some check points.
Because that’s what it felt like. And it didn’t have to. And then it felt repetitive. I understand we’re looking for a missing person but going through Maite’s day to day was not interesting, I’m sorry. Watching both sides get closer to a conclusion that the reader, i.e. ME has already figured out is boring. I was bored. And I hate that.