By now, Silvia Moreno-Garcia is an old pro at fantasy. She made her literary debut with one of my favorite recent fantasy books, Signal to Noise, and last year published Gods of Jade and Shadow, one of TGON’s top books of the year. (Read my review here.) This year she’s broken into a completely new genre, the detective, with Untamed Shore, a thriller about a young woman caught in a love triangle and murder mystery straight out of the classic movies she adores.
Viridiana, named after the 1961 film (that I totally rented after reading this book), already hates living in her clannish small town in Baja California. She has too many stepsiblings living in too small of a house. She graduated from high school early, and her high school ex-boyfriend won’t stop pestering her about marriage. So, Viridiana acts as translator for the few American and European tourists that wander in. Then, three very wealthy gringos hit town: teetotaling writer Ambrose; golden boy Gregory; and Daisy, Ambrose’s wife and Gregory’s sister. Viridiana finds herself falling in love with Gregory and the idyllic lifestyle they lead, even though she always knows something’s up with them. When Ambrose dies, however, Viridiana’s innocent summer turns quickly dark.
As the local policeman, doctor, and magistrate all turn a blind eye to the untimely death, Viridiana finds herself ever more intertwined in a web of suspense. Possibly because she so naive, Viridiana almost nevers suspects the danger lurking in her new social circle until it’s almost too late. Her own hometown comes to hate her and goes from sleepy to suffocating. There’s no easy end in sight here, and Viridiana finds herself living out the plots of her beloved films, but not in the way she wants. Untamed Shore never leaves it’s small twon and remains tensely in the moment for the entirety of the book, recalling Graham Greene more than any writer in recent memory. But all that hides underneath the beautifully descriptions of the cruel coastline and deserts of Baja California.
Take it to the beach for spring break, but only if you don’t want to put it down. Ever. As big a fan as I am her fantasy books, Moreno-Garcia’s homage to noir and the silver screens of yesteryear makes me more hungry for her mystery writing.
Four stars out of five.
Page count: 282
Favorite quote: “Baja California is mountain ridges, clouds of fog spreading over the land, the salt fields, the shocking sight of a valley shaded by date palms, the orchards where olives grow, the stone missions with sun-dried adobe bricks left to crumble into dust, ancient caves decorated with two-headed serpents, — and yes, the desert dotted with cacti.”