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Untamed Shore
by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Reviewed by Galen Strickland
Posted January 15, 2020

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Silvia Moreno-Garcia's latest novel, Untamed Shore, will be published next month, but I was fortunate in getting an advance e-book from Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. There's a bit of confusion as to the publication date. Both Amazon and Goodreads say February 11, Net Galley says the 21st. The former makes more sense since it's a Tuesday, the typical release day for books, although some smaller presses don't restrict themselves to that. It is the second book to find its way to the newly created Non-SF section of the site, in fact it was the prospect of reviewing this that prompted me to create it. I have reviewed all four of Silvia's previous novels, along with a novella, and have read several of her short stories. I've loved everything, and I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to review this one. She's done fantasy, horror, and science fiction, but now turns to mystery. [EDIT: Unlike with several of her earlier books, this one did well enough in hardcover, or had a publisher willing to promote it, so it is now in paperback. The links above and the image to the right are for the paperback, although hardcovers are still available. Original cover image can be seen below.]

Set in 1979 on the west coast of Baja California, this is a noir thriller, with a lot of standard tropes of that style, but with a few twists. The viewpoint character is eighteen-year-old Viridiana, intelligent and ambitious, but fearful that she will be stuck in Desengaņo forever. That is a real town in Mexico, just not in the same location, but perhaps it was appropriate for this story since it means "disillusion." Shark hunting is a large part of the town's industry, both for their meat and skin, and the predatory nature of sharks is used as a metaphor many times, comparing that to human actions. Another theme relates to Viridiana's fascination with movies, the majority she's seen being older black-and-white Hollywood films on TV, with select Mexican and Spanish films at the cinema in a nearby town. Her father was a fan of Luis Buņuel, hence her given name, from the film released shortly before her birth. She would typically interject movie dialogue into conversations, indifferent to the fact most people would not understand the reference.

Into this bleak and desolate town come three American strangers. Ambrose is a wealthy real estate developer who has decided he wants to write a book. He and his wife Daisy, and her brother Gregory, rent "The End," a house on a cliff several miles from town. Ambrose hires Viridiana as his assistant, to type up his notes and organize his correspondence, as well as to be a translator and guide. Viridiana reads three languages well, and speaks four to varying degree. Gregory fascinates her. He's handsome, reminding her of Montgomery Clift, and quite a few of her daydreams of him have her in the guise of Elizabeth Taylor from A Place in the Sun. She quickly learns that Ambrose has a volatile temper, and Daisy has inexplicable mood swings herself. Then Ambrose dies from a fall down the stairs. Was it an accident? Was he pushed? Viridiana didn't witness it herself, and since she doesn't want to jeopardize the lucrative job or derail what she hopes will be a relationship with Gregory, she says nothing about the arguments the family has had. Then she learns some disturbing news about Gregory and Daisy.

The typical mystery has red herrings, hints, misdirection. Several things I expected happened, but not exactly how I anticipated. Other events surprised me, usually relating to how Viridiana reacted to them. She doesn't really know anything about love, just from movies and books, but she thinks she loves Gregory, and believes him when he says he loves her. Is that enough to overlook the negatives? She sees a connection with him as her escape from Desengaņo, but there are many obstacles in their path. I began to sense the frequent shark metaphors might apply as much to Viridiana as anyone else. She wants to leave and keep moving, discovering new cities and new adventures, or else she will stifle and die worthless and alone. She's not going to let that happen.

Another winner from Silvia. Highly recommended.


Related Links:
Silvia's Official Website
My reviews of her other books


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Silvia Moreno-Garcia

February 11, 2020

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