Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Book Review

Title: Velvet was the Night (review copy)

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Genre/Themes: Noir, Historical Fiction, Thriller, Criminal Underworld, Political Activism, Romance

Blurb from NetGalley

1970s Mexico City: while student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite seeks escape from her humdrum life in the stories of passion and danger filling the latest issue of Secret Romance.

She is deeply envious of her neighbour, a beautiful art student apparently living the life of excitement and intrigue Maite craves – so when Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman, journeying deep into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

But 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. Watching Maite from a distance, he comes to see her as a kindred spirit who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.

As Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the dangers threatening to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents and Russian spies all aiming to find or protect Leonora’s secrets – at gunpoint.

Velvet was the Night: an edgy, passionate, simmering noir thriller from a writer at the very top of her game.

My Review

I love Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s writing. Simple as. Every book she writes feels different to the others; it feels like she’s constantly challenging herself as an author and taking risks with her readership.

Prior to this novel I’ve read Gods of Jade and Shadow, a Mayan influenced fantasy set in the Jazz Age. Then I read the sublime Mexican Gothic, a sumptuously atmospheric creep-fest. And I’ve also read The Beautiful Ones, a historical romance with a subtle hint of magical realism. Each were breathtaking in their own individuality.

And now with Velvet was the Night I’ve read my first ever noir style novel.

I didn’t know what to expect from this genre when I started the book but what I got was a story rich in gritty character detail and filled with a simmering tension that threatened to bubble over at any second. And I loved it. 

The book is inspired by actual historical events that occurred in Mexico City in 1971. I know absolutely nothing about Mexico’s history so this made things all the more interesting for me as I learned about.

From the author’s website: Velvet Was the Night is a noir set in Mexico City in 1971, which is to say, it’s set at a historical crossroads.
The event that initiates the story, the attack against protesters orchestrated by the Mexican government, marks the beginning of the period known as La Guerra Sucia (The Dirty War), a decade of fierce political repression. It was around this time, in 1969, when Rafael Bernal published what is considered the first Mexican noir: El Complot Mongol. It was this strange confluence of political strife and the emergence of a new genre that inspired Velvet Was the Night, which juxtaposes the bleakness of the noir against two popular forms of entertainment from this era: the romantic comic book and the burgeoning rock music scene in Mexico.

If you want to read more about the background to the historical setting and political climes that are explored within Velvet was the Night then head to Silvia Moreno Garcia’s website to read more: Link

The catalyst for the story is when a young woman called Leonora mysteriously vanished and the book uses alternating chapters to recount the events surrounding her disappearance from the perspective of two characters: Maite and Elvis. 

Maite is an absolutely brilliant character. I love her so much. She’s not what one would expect as a typical femme fatale in a noir which makes her all the more compelling to read about. She’s in her thirties, single, and very much not even the main character in the story of her own life. She lives in almost a dream world of romantic pulp fiction serials and imported American vinyl records. Her job is mundane, and her personal life even more so… but through her imagination she comes alive with all these aspirations and fantastical notions… 

Elvis is very much her counterpoint. He’s down to earth in a very gritty sense. An outcast who doesn’t even go by his own name anymore and is involved in the violent aspects of a criminal underworld even though it belies his personal beliefs as he is inherently a peace loving sort of character… it’s all these nuances of belief and circumstance that make him delightfully contradictory at times and results in a richly detailed character that feels authentic. 

It’s through separate avenues their storylines become intertwined as both Maite and Elvis become involved in the attempts to discover what it is happened to Leonora and why it is imperative that sensitive photographs she may be in possession of find their way into the hands of the right people. 

And what the story delivers is a masterpiece in slow burn and mystery with a cast of darkly delicious characters that culminates in a fantastically satisfying ending that reveals a brilliant tapestry of all the delicate threads that Moreno-Garcia wove throughout the heart of the novel. 

This book has truly proved to me that Moreno-Garcia is a must read author. Her novels are always richly layered with detail from the atmosphere and world building, to the characters both main and supporting. Every story she delivers to her readers is a compelling page turner and Velvet was the Night is no exception. She’s an author for whom I can’t wait to read more from and I highly recommend each of the books I’ve read by her.

*An e-copy was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley for honest review*

Publishing 17th August 2021, Jo Fletcher Books (Quercus)

Other Works by Silvia Moreno-Garcia I’ve Reviewed

My Socials

8 thoughts on “Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Book Review

    1. Ooh good question. I think whatever genre you’re more naturally drawn to is always a good idea when making those choices. I would say that of the four books I’ve read by her this is the chewiest and hardest to get into (I gave it a four star NetGalley rating versus the five stars that each of the others I’ve read received). My personal favourite is Mexican Gothic. I loved the atmosphere, the creep factor, the tension, and personally I think it’s her best work. 😊❤️💜


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