By Silvia Moreno-Garcia
An inbred family with aspirations of immortality. An isolated Victorian mansion blooming mold and mushrooms. An undercurrent of steamy seduction aimed at an unwilling young woman.
This novel has all the trappings of an old fashioned gothic novel with modern twists and turns that will keep you awake at night.
Noemí Taboada, 22, is enjoying life in Mexico City going to parties, dabbling with a string of eligible young men and trying to decide whether she should become a concert pianist, an actress or an anthropologist when her father asks for her help.
Her older cousin, Catalina Taboada, 27, has sent a troubling letter. Some months earlier, she had impetuously married a man named Virgil Doyle, whose family once owned silver mines in rural Mexico. Despite her family’s concern about the speed of the romance and marriage — and whether her new groom was more enamoured of her money than her character, Catalina married and left Mexico City to live with her new husband.
Now she writes a rambling letter suggesting her husband is trying to poison her and that the house “is sick with rot, stinks of decay, brims with every single evil and cruel sentiment.” Catalina writes that she’s losing track of time and thoughts and is being held prisoner.
Her uncle is concerned that she’s having a mental breakdown and needs professional help. He persuades Noemí to go for a visit to see for herself what is going on.
I cannot reveal more without spoiling the story. I can say that this is a seriously spooky story. It’s quite a remove from the gothic romances of the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s written by authors like Victoria Holt, Joan Aiken and Phyllis Whitney. But here, author Silvia Moreno-Garcia has amped up the impact.
Yes, this story is set in the 1950s with 1950’s sensibilities, but Noemí is spunky and assertive, witty and playful. Where older gothics suggest ephemeral threats that may or may not be real, Noemí faces a haunted house that is visceral and throbbing with threat. Older gothics suggest romance and attraction between a naive protagonist and a man of the world who may be a foe. Noemí is not that naive and she confronts a sexual current that suggests rape rather than romance.
This book is a real page turner — if you can handle the spookiness — as Noemí figures out what is happening with the Doyle family and how to escape
And that brings me to my only regret about this book: Noemí is such a wonderful character. She’s high-spirited, inventive, sassy, charismatic when she’s in her carefree Mexico City life. Much of that is lost in the life-threatening situation that she faces trying to rescue her cousin.
She’s definitely a character I’d love to read more of.
About the Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia (1981 – )
Both of author Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s parents worked for radio stations. She grew up in Mexico but moved to Canada in 2004 and now lives with her family in Vancouver, British Columbia.
A writer of novels and short stories, Moreno-Garcia began her career as an editor and publisher working with various magazine and books. She is a publisher with Innsmouth Free Press, which focuses on weird fiction. As of October 2019, she is a book columnist for The Washington Post.
In February 2020, she was named as a finalist for the Nebula Award 2019 in the best Novel category for GODS OF JADE AND SHADOW. Her debut novel, SIGNAL TO NOISE (2015), a book about music and magic, won the Copper Cylinder Adult Award in 2016. Her second novel, CERTAIN DARK THINGS (2016), focuses on narco vampires in Mexico City and was named as one of NPR’s best books of 2016. A book she co-edited with Paula R. Stiles, SHE WALKS IN SHADOWS (2015), won the 2016 World Fantasy Award for best anthology.