VELVET WAS THE NIGHT

An enforcer and a secretary search for a missing student in this explosive noir novel set in 1971 Mexico.

“Life’s a mess.” That’s the motto of Elvis, a 21-year-old man working as an enforcer for the Hawks, a government-sponsored black-ops group whose mission is to spy on, suppress, and harass left-wing protesters and activists. Elvis is in thrall to the group’s leader, El Mago, a mysterious but charismatic figure: “He was Elvis’s god, but a dark god. The god of the Old Testament, that, as a good Catholic boy, he’d learned to fear.” El Mago gives Elvis an assignment: Find a young college student named Leonora who’s gone missing along with some photos El Mago desperately wants. Elvis’ search leads him to a 30-year-old legal secretary named Maite who agreed to feed Leonora’s cat while she was gone and who is herself looking for Leonora. Moreno-Garcia follows both Elvis and Maite, who have a few things in common—they’re both avid readers, with Maite favoring romance magazines in particular, and they’re both suckers for old crooner-style music. They’re also both somewhat lonely, with Elvis’ only friend in the group out of commission after having been attacked at a protest and Maite despairing about ever finding a boyfriend. As they separately search for the missing Leonora and Elvis keeps an eye on Maite, they encounter a host of leftist activists, artists, secret police officers, a charming antiques store owner, and more, as their paths come ever closer to crossing. It’s hard to describe how much fun this novel is—Moreno-Garcia, whose Mexican Gothic (2020) gripped readers last year, proves to be just as good at noir as she is at horror. The novel features memorable characters, taut pacing, an intricate plot, and antiheroes you can’t help but root for.

A noir masterpiece.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-35682-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Delightfully readable fiction, but the mystery disappoints.

THE IT GIRL

Ten years after having discovered her Oxford roommate’s dead body in front of the fireplace in their room, a young woman struggles with the realization that she may have helped send the wrong man to prison.

Hannah Jones arrives at Oxford hardly believing that she’s been accepted into this haven of learning and wealth. Sharing a picturesque set of rooms with the flamboyant and beautiful April Clarke-Cliveden, she divides her time between rigorous studying and energetic socializing with Emily Lippmana, Ryan Coates, Hugh Bland, and Will de Chastaigne, with whom she shares an attraction even though he's April’s boyfriend. It’s a good life except for the increasingly creepy interactions she has with John Neville, one of the porters. When Hannah finds April dead one night just after she’s seen Neville coming down the stairs from their rooms, it’s her testimony that puts him in jail. Ware divides the novel into alternating “before” and “after” chapters, with the narrative of Hannah’s college experience unfolding parallel to the events of her life nearly a decade later, when she’s married to Will and pregnant with their first child. Then Neville dies in prison and Hannah hears from a reporter who thinks he might actually have been innocent. Hannah begins to wonder herself, and she plunges back into the past to see if she can figure out what really happened that night. As usual with Ware, the novel is well crafted—the setting, characters, and dialogue are all engaging—but it lacks the author's signature sense of urgent and imminent threat. The novel unfolds smoothly, providing a few twists and turns, as the reader might expect, but not really delivering any true suspense. It also lacks the contrast between a luxurious background and the characters’ fears that Ware has often played to great effect. She does offer a deeper dive into the trauma of the survivors than she usually does, but this isn't the breathless page-turner one has come to expect from Ware.

Delightfully readable fiction, but the mystery disappoints.

Pub Date: July 12, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5526-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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