Book Review

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

He is trying to poison me. You must come for me, Noemí. You have to save me.

When glamorous socialite Noemí Taboada receives a frantic letter from her newlywed cousin begging to be rescued from a mysterious doom, it’s clear something is desperately amiss. Catalina has always had a flair for the dramatic, but her claims that her husband is poisoning her and her visions of restless ghosts seem remarkable, even for her.

Noemí’s chic gowns and perfect lipstick are more suited to cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing, but she immediately heads to High Place, a remote mansion in the Mexican countryside, determined to discover what is so affecting her cousin.

Tough and smart, she possesses an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness.

And Noemí, mesmerised by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to leave this enigmatic house behind…

I’ve only read one novel by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – 2020’s Untamed Shore – which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Mexican Gothic is a very different read and one that sees the author tackling the horror genre.  I have to admit that while it’s a genre that I enjoy and would like to read more of, it’s also a genre that I find to be very hit and miss, although I’ve no one to blame but myself in that regard.  Mexican Gothic is a superb novel, however – there are enough signs of something being not quite right from the beginning to set the reader on edge, clues as to what’s going on to give the reader a chance to figure it out for themselves, and some genuinely creepy moments as the novel processes.  The type of horror enjoyed will vary by reader, but this one felt as though it was written for me. 

The main protagonist, Noemí, is a fascinating character and one who seems to be desperately unsuited to the task at hand.  A young socialite, she ditches the parties and the trail of young men in order to investigate a desperate plea from her recently married cousin.  Noemí initially comes across as vain and superficial, and yet it very quickly becomes apparent that there is more to her than the dresses, heels, and the never-ending stream of parties.  Strong, determined, and intelligent, we learn that she wants more from life from the good marriage that it’s assumed she will make, and it’s clear that once she sets her mind to something that she doesn’t allow herself to be swayed from that path.  While I had my doubts initially, Noemí is exactly the sort of person you’d want on your side in such a scenario, and I quickly came to like her and her hidden strength. 

Arriving at her cousin’s new home, she finds a once decadent English-style mansion that has fallen into a state of decay.  The Doyles were clearly once a wealthy family, having made their fortune in silver mining, and yet now appear to be a family clinging on to the past and what they once had.  The house forms a perfect setting for the novel.  The creepy, old mansion – once grand but now in a state of disrepair – sets the scene beautifully, as does the seemingly endless fog in which the house is surrounded.  It’s so wonderfully atmospheric, and the dark and foreboding nature of the house and the things that go bump in the night leave the reader in no doubt as to the nature of Mexican Gothic

The family are also rather odd, and while they allow Noemí to stay it’s clear that they don’t like her, the questions she asks, and her insistence that there’s something not quite right with Catalina.  Her cousin’s husband, Virgil, is a mercurial individual – handsome and capable of charm, and yet cold and aggressive at times.  Virgil’s cousin, Florence is an austere woman who takes an instant dislike to Noemí, while her son, Francis, is the only one to show any warmth and understanding towards Noemí.  Overseeing them all is Virgil’s father, Howard Doyle – a patriarchal figure in ill health.  He seems to take the wrong kind of interest in Noemí, and immediately shows his views with thinly veiled racist comments expressed under a guise of stimulating conversation and intellectual debate. Noemí, I’m delighted to say, is more than capable of dealing with this pompous old man.  It’s a distinctly odd family, and one that Noemí soon understands to be surrounded by rumour, little of it pleasant. 

The plot moves on at a decent pace, revealing little hints as Noemí begins her investigation and starts to uncover some uncomfortable elements to the family her cousin has married into. It’s a clever novel with an intriguing mystery and a fantastic slice of Gothic horror, perfect for readers who enjoy a creepy edge and a sense of unusual goings on. I also loved the way in which common fairy tale tropes are turned on their head, giving the novel a distinctly feminist vibe despite the time in which it’s set. Absolutely superb, and most definitely recommended!

Mexican Gothic is published by Jo Fletcher Books and is available now in hardback, eBook, and audio formats. The paperback is published on 15 June.

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