Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an own-voices Latinx Gothic horror book about a young woman named Noemí in the 1950s who ends up travelling to the Mexican countryside after receiving a frenzied letter from her cousin, Catalina, who has been newly wedded into an English family.  The fashionable young debutante packs her things and leaves at once. Upon arriving to High Place, the Doyle family’s shadowy estate, Noemí’s curiosity gets the best of her and she starts working to uncover the family’s darkest secrets, hoping to save her cousin before the doom and bloom of the house can overwhelm them all.

Gothic horror is a much-underappreciated category of fiction, so to witness a culturally rich Latinx addition to the genre was absolutely thrilling. Mexican Gothic not only lived up to every expectation that I had, but it also surpassed them by a marvellous margin. Ms Moreno-Garcia has crafted a tale that is positively sublime in its execution and a spectacular addition to the genre.

The novel has every ingredient needed for a perfect Gothic  horror tale. It is outstandingly atmospheric with an insidiously slow-rise of tension and terror. The romanticism is mesmerizingly interwoven with the discomforting and oft-times jaw-dropping elements of death and mayhem. Then there is the large, age-old house that seems to have its very own spirit, screaming out in anguish. There was not a single part of Mexican Gothic that I did not devour with eager anticipation.

The best part of the story is how the author threads facets of terror with the abhorrence of Western colonialism of a foreign land. The self-righteous nature of white supremacy paves a foundation for said racial entitlement via the grotesque act of eugenics, racism, and even colourism. Together this toxic brew slowly usurps the rich Latinx culture and the lands that belonged to the Mexican people. As Noemí uncovers the history of what happened in the establishment of High Place, all I could feel was disgust, outrage, and sorrow, especially when one considers how similar events are still happening across the globe in the present era.

The tale takes its time in depicting the manipulation that the Mexican people fall victim to, causing them to experience mass dementia and hysteria via a plague-like assault. It is breathtakingly dark and discomforting, taking some of my favourite tropes of the genre and giving them a magnificently original twist.

When we take a step back and look at the Doyle family, the owners of High Place, a sense of mixed feelings start to arise. Every single person with the exception of one young man are utterly unlikable and monstrously disturbing. It captures the reader in a bubble of claustrophobic solitude as we watch Noemí trying to unravel the secrets hidden away in High Place. In many ways, Noemí’s struggles reminded me of Crimson Peak, another Gothic tale made by a Latinx creator. No matter how much we want to believe she has found a resolution or even a potential ally, what she has really found is more questions and ghastly truths to turn the stomach.

“The house had metamorphosed in the dream, but it was not a thing of meat and sinew on this occasion. She walked upon a carpet of moss, the flowers and vines crept up the walls, and long, thin stacks of mushrooms glowed a pale yellow, lightening up the ceiling and floor. It was as if the forest had tiptoed into the house in the middle of the night and left a part of itself inside.”

I never expected to be as surprised by the twists with such intensity. There was a moment where my jaw fell completely open because I most decidedly did not anticipate what was to come. To be shocked so thoroughly was wonderfully exhilarating. It was wickedly disturbing and another perfect complement to the Gothic horror genre.

If there is anything that I feel readers shall find fault with, it is the pacing. The book takes a gradual tempo with its progressions, carefully unwrapping each titbit of a twist in a methodical way. However, that is the beauty and core essence of Gothic horror.   It is made for slow-burn, spine-tingling storytelling experiences in order to create the most cerebral and uneasy journey possible. The genre is made to push us outside of our limits of safe and comfort thinking and the best way to accomplish that is via a subtle and sinister narrative delivery. While I respect that it may not be everyone’s cup of chai, I only ask that readers keep that in mind when going into any work of Gothic horror, not just Mexican Gothic.

All in all, Mexican Gothic was a remarkably chilling, eerie, and  devious novel that I am so happy I picked up. Noemí is a tenacious, feisty, intelligent, and strongminded woman whose determination and love of family makes it impossible not to root for her, particularly when the forces of nature seem just as driven to smother that spirit out of her. Between her, the outstanding ambiance and environment of High Place, the commentary on the gradual cultural murder that comes with colonialism, and that bombshell of a plot twist, Mexican Gothic should not be missed by fans of horror fiction and people who enjoy a circumspect creepy mystery.

Publication Date: 30-June-2020
Publisher: Del Rey
Genre: Latinx Literature, Gothic Horror, Historical Fiction
Page Count: 336
Content Warnings: Body horror. Eugenics. Racism. Colourism. Sexual Assault. Gaslighting. Mention of suicide. Miscarriage. Death of a baby. Cannibalism. Gore. Mass Death. Incest.
GoodReads: Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March

Murder in Old Bombay by Nev Marchis an own-voices Indian (Parsee) historical crime mystery novel that revolves around a biracial man named Jim Agnihotri who is recuperating in a hospital after his time in the Afghan War where he learns about the unfortunate demise of two women in Bombay. Upon reading the newspapers, which have touted the deaths as suicide, Agnihotri feels that there is something strange going on and that there is much more to the case than appears to the naked eye. Freshly motivated by the deductive prowess of one Sherlock Holmes, Agnihotri decides to investigate the case on his own.

Murder in Old Bombay is an excellently written piece of historical fiction that is both transportive and insightful about an era that is rarely seen within the genre, the British occupation of India during the late 1800s. Coupled with the portrayal of a biracial identity and a curious crime mystery, readers shall have a pleasantly engaging reading experience, more so if they fans of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dynamic detective duo, Sherlock Holmes and James Watson, from which the story derives heavy inspiration.

My favourite aspect of the novel is the main character, Jim Agnihotri himself. Because he has two racial backgrounds—British and Indian—he feels quite a bit of a disconnect from both identities, like a wanderer just on the cusp of a border, able to see and hear the culture without ever feeling like he belongs to either one. This is something that we see mirrored in the interactions that Jim has with others, and an element that also works as a subtle form of allegory for the delicate political strife in India at the time (1892). Lastly, it makes it easier to empathise and connect with Jim on a personal level, humanising him in a manner that makes the reader want to keep reading.

When Jim meets Adi, the man who is related to the two women that died, their bond is almost instant. Adi can see the sincerity in Jim’s desire of wanting to uncover the truth for the sake of it rather than taking the periodical’s story at face value and it makes Adi confide in the soldier. Their bond eventually starts to feel like the beginnings of a found family dynamic, which I positively adored.

The investigation itself ends up  being far more complex than I expected it to be and it was fun trying to connect the clues before they were revealed on page. It also takes us into the heart of Bombay where we see how people born of multi-ethnicities are treated, spurned and subjugated to ostracism that illustrates the rift between the British colonists and their Indian commonwealth. Since the book takes place only a decade prior to the Partition of Bengal in 1907, which was preceded by an intense political struggle of socialist reforms, the socio-political ambiance of Bombay is quite anxious and stiff. Jim’s use of disguises also work to depict the many faces and circumstances of the people of India, which was a neat way of sharing the atmosphere of the time period.   

The writing was very impressive! One of the things the author accomplished fairly well is the mannerisms, etiquette, and social exchanges of the 1890s. Most of the time, I felt as if I were standing beside the characters as they conversed, or watching a marvellous film where everything was portrayed with careful authenticity. The ability to write so instinctively for a period that is over 130 years in the past can be challenging, but Ms March makes it feel beautifully effortless.

If there is anything that may be a narrative repellent to some readers it is that the context of British India’s conflicts can feel somewhat detached from the mystery plotline as a whole. While I appreciate its inclusion as it creates a fully enthralling sense of environment that is transportive,  it does cause the story to feel a bit drawn out. Another element that could be somewhat frustrating are the constant references to Holmes and Watson, highlighting their influences with a strong on-the-nose aura. Folx who are unfamiliar with Sherlock Holmes may appreciate the allusions more than those who are already quite well-versed in the Holmes’ tales. My hope is that these references shall dimmish in the forthcoming sequel and as the series goes on.

Overall, I really enjoyed Murder in Old Bombay. It was a superbly written debut that shows the author’s natural talent at writing for the historical fiction genre. The suspense and air of mystery held fast, and the characters did not fall flat or fall to one-dimensional blunders. I highly recommend this to readers of the historical fiction genre, as well as to individuals who find pleasure in mysteries akin to the works of Agatha Christie and Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, but far more diverse!

Please note that I received a free copy in exchange for an honest review, courtesy of Minotaur Books.

Publication Date: 10-November-2020
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Genre: Indian Literature, Historical Fiction, Crime Mystery
Page Count: 400
Content Warnings: Mention of suicide. Mention of wartime violence. Racism. Colonialism. Murder.
GoodReads: Murder in Old Bombay by Nev March