Everything They Touch Rots – A Review of Mexican Gothic

Mexican Gothic

Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Del Ray / Penguin Random House
Page Count: 320
Available Formats: Ebook & Print

[E]verything they touch rots.

Wuthering Heights meets Dracula meets The Shadow Over Innsmouth?

I first heard of Mexican Gothic’s author Silvia Moreno-Garcia,  at Necromicon back in September of 2019. She was speaking at a panel on the King in Yellow. At the time, she was running a crowdfunding campaign to translate José Luis Zárate’s The Road of Ice and Salt (later renamed The Route of Ice and Salt).

Mexican Gothic was published in 2020. It takes place in early 1950’s Mexico, centered around Noemí Taboada. Noemí is a young woman from new money in Mexico City. A debutante with varying interests and passions—an early obsession in theater and now a desire to pursue a master’s degree in anthropology. She is an extroverted socialite with a boyfriend she’s not particularly inclined to get married to, despite her father’s worries.

The tale opens with her being summoned from a costume party by her father, who has received a mysterious letter from her cousin Catalina. Catalina, recently married, raves in the letter that her life is in jeopardy. Noemí’s father asks her to investigate what is going on, dangling the promise of graduate school in return for doing so.

And so Noemí journeys to High Place, the home of Catalina’s husband Virgil and other members of the Doyle family, English expatriates. High Place is a cold and decaying estate from where the Doyles once operated a silver mine. It looms over the mountainside town of El Triunfo. She is met at the railroad station by Virgil’s cousin Francis, one of the few sympathetic members of the Doyle family. For example, the family patriarch, Howard, has an obsession with eugenics. Noemí’s first impression of him is she expects him to have a pair of calipers to measure her skull size for eugenics purposes.

As the plot of the novel centers around Noemí unraveling the secrets of High Place and the Doyles, I’ll be scant on details and more focused on impressions. Of course, this being a horror book, there is a supernatural element to it that is gradually uncovered. The Doyle family and their estate are just hanging on, remnants of past glories. As I read Mexican Gothic, the prevailing theme I caught was that of different worlds colliding with one another. An English family in Mexico. A modern woman like Noemí dealing with those having more traditional values. Science and the supernatural.

There was a lot I liked here. I greatly enjoyed reading about 1950s Mexico, a setting I can’t claim much familiarity with. As a gamer, particularly a Call of Cthulhu one, Noemí makes a great example of a proactive investigator. She doesn’t sit idly by and wait for things to happen but rather seizes the initiative—and her doing so allows us to meet a wide variety of people, despite most of the story taking place at the High Place estate and the nearby town of El Triunfo. She learns of epidemics among the miners, the closing of the mine, and tales of mass murder at High Place on her way to discovering the supernatural horror it conceals. The mystery is uncovered gradually but fairly, with Noemí avoiding plot-driven poor decisions—while still erring and making occasional mistakes. The supernatural aspect had a nice Lovecraftian touch to it. It’s not a Mythos tale per se, but it has that feeling of horrors with a twisted scientific background. Though racism, which is indeed addressed here, is portrayed with the ugliness it deserves. I’ve seen it categorized as gothic horror, a categorization I’d agree with.

While I greatly enjoyed the Mexican Gothic, it’s worth noting my 16-year old daughter absolutely loved it, like among her all-time favorite books loved it. She’s quite the fan of horror novels and movies, particularly Stephen King. She flew through reading Dune, but she took her time digesting Mexican Gothic. If I were to summarize my conversation with her about it, she felt that Noemí was a woman written by a woman and not “for men.” My daughter has since gone on quite the Moreno-Garcia tear since then. It was awesome as a parent seeing a book reach my daughter in a way it didn’t reach me—and this isn’t me damning the book with faint praise—I thought it was superb.

~ Daniel Stack

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