Thursday, June 03, 2021

Chicanonautica: Mexico City in Shades of Noir

by Ernest Hogan

Silvia Moreno-Garcia has all my respect. She is one of the most successful Latina writers of her generation. Her knockout novel Mexican Gothic was a New York Times bestseller, and is being developed for television. Everything I've read by her is great.

She's also prolific. Her books come out so often I can't keep up with them. Please forgive me. I live under a monumental mound of books and am easily distracted.

I deliberately tried to get ahead of the game with her new one, Velvet Was the Night. I got me an electronic ARC from NetGalley. It's not coming out until August, so this is a chance for you to pre-order it to make for a grand finale for your summer reading binge. 

Yes, it's another winner.

Charging further into bestseller/big-time territory, this one leaps out of the sci-fi/fantasy/horror megagenre into the more mainstreamy noir. It transplants the genre to Mexico City, which I suppose would make it negra (that translates to black for you Spanish-impaired out there), which creates some problems. The French started calling Hollywood crime films with dark attitude noir since the Fifties. Maybe we need a new term for what’s going on now--I suggest ultraviolet: the invisible light that makes scorpions glow in the dark.


Velvet Was the Night takes the noir tradition to new places besides CDMX. It takes place back in the Seventies, the time of hippies, and commies, and gangsters getting mixed up in dirty and deadly Cold War politics. But this isn’t a literary history lesson. The real-life nightmarish situation is the background for the story of two young people: a young thug who goes by El Elvis, and a thirtyish secretary who likes American pop music, movies, and Mexican romance comics.

Yes, we have a Tarantino-esque mix of old-time pop culture along with the sex and violence.

The characters are great, and a bit larger-than-life. The setting gave me Mexico City flashbacks--I could smell the streets . . .

It’s just the thing to take you away from the dwindling pandemic and current political shuffle to deal with the new situation. And not just for the Latino lit crowd. Recommend this to your Anglo friends as a page-turning beach read.

If they like it, recommend Mexican Gothic. Also, her earlier books are being rereleased.

Who knows, maybe after a few years New York publishers will stop thinking that books by and about Latinxes won’t make money.

Wouldn’t that be something?

Ernest Hogan’s work will be in two upcoming anthologies: Nuestra Realidad Creativa / Our Creative Reality and El Porvenir, Ya! Citlalzazanilli Mexicatl: A Chicano Science Fiction Anthology.

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