Mexican Gothic By Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Heart-thumping thriller-chiller - book review -

A young socialite discovers the unsavoury secrets of a decaying mansion in 1950s Mexico – is a crazy, mind-bending and visceral experience as Moreno-Garcia delivers a full-on horror story.

Mexican Gothic
Mexican Gothic

A haunted house set high on a dark, mist-shrouded hill might sound like the old trope for a classic, but somewhat hackneyed, horror story…

But there’s so much more than bumps in the night when you turn the pages of this heart-thumping thriller-chiller from exciting writer Silvia Moreno-Garcia, the Mexican-born author who took readers on a wild ride last year with her imaginative historical fantasy, Gods of Jade and Shadow.

Reading Mexican Gothic – which stars a young socialite discovering the unsavoury secrets of a decaying mansion in 1950s Mexico – is a crazy, mind-bending and visceral experience as Moreno-Garcia delivers a full-on horror story with an original feminist twist, and all the supernatural atmospherics of a dark fairy tale.

Ghostly shadows and hellish hallucinations abound as the isolated hilltop house – ‘sick with rot’ and brimming with evil – throws up some dirty, disturbing secrets dating back centuries, and a family history mired in cruelty, tragedy and untimely death.

At the age of 22, glamorous debutante Noemí Taboada is living the high life in Mexico City. Her father reckons she’s flighty but Noemí is a young woman ahead of her time; she might love and leave her suitors but she is ambitious and rejects the idea that she will simply move from debutante to wife.

When a frantic letter arrives from her newly-wed cousin Catalina, begging Noemí to save her from a mysterious fate, Noemí agrees to head off to Catalina’s new home at High Place, a house tucked away in the Mexican countryside.

Catalina’s desperate letter claimed her husband was trying to poison her and Noemí is not sure what she will find. Her cousin married 35-year-old, handsome Englishman Virgil Doyle after a brief courtship and Noemí knows little about either him or the region where he lives.

With her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick more suited to cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing, Noemí might appear to be an unlikely rescuer but she’s tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid of what lies ahead.

And she will need all her strength and courage at High Place, a brooding, forest-bound mansion with the ‘musty air of a place that had withered away’ which sits near a dilapidated former gold and silver mining town that still clings desperately to ‘the dregs of splendour.’

Even more disconcerting are the Doyle family… the cold, imperious Virgil is both menacing and alluring, his father Howard, the ancient patriarch with the pallor of ‘an underground creature,’ appears fascinated by Noemí, and even the house itself, that ‘great, quiet gargoyle,’ starts to invade Noemi’s sleep with erotic nightmares and bizarre visions of gold dust, blood and weird fungi.

Her only ally is the family’s youngest member, shy and gentle Francis Doyle, who seems to want to help Noemí but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s shadowy past.

As Noemí digs deeper into the many secrets behind the walls of High Place, she unearths stories of violence and madness and is so mesmerised by the house’s terrifying yet seductive world that soon she may find it impossible to ever leave…

Moreno-Garcia’s enthralling novel gives a brief nod to classics like Jane Eyre and Rebecca but features a much more strident and forceful leading lady… flirty, feisty Noemí is no shrinking violet but a rebellious young woman intent on unearthing the truth of the dastardly Doyles.

But that makes her battle no less terrifying or suspenseful because Noemí is up against a malign and powerful force whose unrelenting menace fills the house and plunges her into some truly grotesque, gory and nightmarish sequences.

The tension and danger ramps up to fever pitch as the darkness closes in on Noemí and Catalina, the stakes get higher and higher, and the house – which is perhaps the most eerily charismatic player in this gripping story – threatens to overcome its innocent victims.

With its exciting contemporary element, an intriguing soupçon of science fiction, a sprinkling of romance, and a giant helping of horror, Mexican Gothic is best consumed with the lights on!

(Jo Fletcher Books, hardback, £16.99)