Velvet Was the Night

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Well, first of all, I have no idea who that's supposed to be on the cover. A glamorous smoking lady, but the main female character is kind of plain and doesn't smoke. The title is a lyric from that old 1950s hit song "Blue Velvet"; the song plays a role here, but otherwise I couldn't detect what the title had to do with the book.

The book was on the NYT list of The Best Mystery Novels of 2021. I got a little worried that this was an "affirmative action" pick, chosen for its "diversity". The author, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, is of Mexican descent, but lives in Canada; the novel is set in 1970s Mexico.

I was pleasantly surprised. The writing here is good, and unsentimental.

The movie follows two main characters. There's Maite, a lonely secretary afflicted with minor kleptomania, self-esteem issues, a romance comic book fetish, and persistent money woes. And there's Elvis, working as a thug for the "Hawks", a CIA-sponsored street gang tasked with violently disrupting Communist "activists" looking to install a Marxist government in Mexico.

Both Maite and Elvis find themselves searching for a lost student, Leonara. Maite has a rather selfish reason: she was asked to take care of Leonara's cat, and she wants to get paid for that so she can get her car out of hock at the repair shop. Elvis is looking because he's been ordered to by the leader of the Hawks: Leonora apparently took incriminating photos at a protest rally, where the Hawks visited deadly violence on the Commie protesters.

And yeah, not kidding about the Communist stuff. There's a Russian spy, Arkady, who beats the crap out of Elvis at one point. I kind of liked him for that. He's probably the most competent character here.

Neither Maite nor Elvis are particularly sympathetic characters, but they're arguably more sympathetic than anyone else here. And (small spoiler) they don't meet up until near the end of the book, driven by Elvis's discovery of their shared love of old music and ineffectual self-improvement. There's a considerable amount of violence that happens just before this.

Last Modified 2024-01-11 2:56 PM EDT