Velvet was the Night

A friend read Mexican Gothic, Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s previous book, and complained that, while it was good, she wanted more Mexican culture. Not necessarily less gothic, just more of what the country feels like.

Well, Velvet was the Night has that. But it’s not the tourist-friendly Mexico. It’s the 1970s CIA-funded anti-communist groups fighting the student radicals who are protesting government corruption. The CIA is implicated from the top of the book. It’s clear that the situation is ugly and it’s the Americans’ fault.

This is the background to a classic thriller – there is undeveloped film that everyone is after. We’re following two of them: Elvis, a low-level agent known as a Hawk, one of the CIA funded groups, and Maite, a legal secretary who has been asked to take care of a neighbor’s cat and ends up mixed up with the student radicals when the neighbor doesn’t return. These two are wonderfully drawn characters. Elvis has a heart of gold and loves old movies and music. Maite is lonely and loves romance novels and records. You want to know what happens to them, from the beginning.

The plot is a little slower to get started. But the story takes off once everyone is pursuing the neighbor and her photos, which everyone seems to think will blow the roof off the current government. Will Elvis find the film? Will Maite ever get to give up taking care of the cat? Where is the neighbor anyway? You want to know what happens in the story, and more importantly, you want to know what happens to Elvis and Maite.

Velvet was the Night is a wonderful book, all noir and thriller, without ever being cold-hearted.

Noir, but science fiction

The City & The City is for the Venn diagram of people who like Raymond Chandler and science fiction. It’s a mystery, a police procedural, that involves two cities that exist in the same space but in different dimensions. Sort of. The bureaucracy that governs the two cities is Kafka-esque.

The mystery could stand on its own, but would be way less intriguing without the  odd Eastern European dual-citied setting. It allows for twists and turns and part of the intrigue is figuring out how the two cities coexist. Allow for some mind-twistiness with this one.

Climate change won’t be pretty

The Water Knife

What’s it about?
It’s Phoenix, AZ sometime in the future. There’s no water – because of climate change the drought is never-ending. Las Vegas and California are the two big cheeses when it comes to groundwater and (especially) the Colorado River. There are three interacting story lines. First, Angel is the titular water knife, a guy from Las Vegas who will do anything to make sure his city gets water. Including going to Phoenix to see who has what water around there. Second, Lucy, a reporter bound and determined to get the real story – not just the click-bait-y stories – about the politics around water rights and who gets what. And third, Maria, a teenager from Texas – which has even less water than Arizona – who’s just trying to stay alive.

Why should you read it?
The Water Knife is noir-y and grittier than I usually read and recommend. But this is good. I like the noir bits: the world isn’t always a clean place and people are often greedy. Especially in a place where there’s not enough to go around.

Look, I live in California and we are on our fourth year of drought. There’s some evidence that there will be a rainy winter this year, but there’s also a prediction that that rain is going to go north of us. We may not see it. The Water Knife is an interesting take on what a waterless West might end up looking like, particularly if there’s a weak national government. It’s worth reading.