Mexican Gothic

Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Del Rey


His hands were steady on her wrists now.
“Do you think I’m mad like those hatters?” she asked…
“Dear God, no. I think you’re sane and clever. Much too clever, perhaps. Why won’t you listen to me? Really listen. Leave today. Leave right this instant. This is no place for you.”
“What do you know that you aren’t telling me?”
(Francis) stared at her, his hands still gripping her own. “Noemí, just because there are no ghosts it doesn’t mean you can’t be haunted…”

     from Mexican Gothic


Are you sure we're in Mexico?

Once asked his opinion of a book, Abe Lincoln diplomatically responded that people who like this kind of book will probably enjoy it. I recalled this anecdote when reading Mexican Gothic. (Full disclosure: I want my money back.)

Having dipped into the gothic and paranormal myself (See: The Legacy of Emily Hargraves) I was intrigued to read a gothic mystery with a particular Mexican flavor, expecting some tale of a family’s generational curse in the vein of Isabel Allende or Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

But in spite of its title, it offers little of the rich, colorful and vibrant cultural heritage of Mexico. This tale is dismally and depressingly English gothic.

The set-up is promising. Noemí Taboada, a young socialite in Mexico City, is sent to an isolated region by her father to check on her cousin Catalina, who married Virgil Doyle, a tall, handsome Englishman. Now Catalina has sent a letter from the Doyle mansion, High Place, saying she is being poisoned. Is Catalina delusional? Hysterical? Or is she just revolted by English cooking?

Noemí travels to the Doyle mansion to find her once lovely, vivacious cousin now looking wan and listless. And no wonder: High Place is wrapped in the perpetual fog, chilly mists and incessant rain for which Mexico is so well known. With no electricity, they have only oil lamps making everything suitably creepy and gothically gloomy.

The people who live there are as cold and moldy as the house. Howard Doyle is the decrepit and dying patriarch. His son, Virgil, is tall and handsome (we are reminded that Virgil is tall and handsome each time he makes an appearance) There is also Virgil’s younger cousin Francis, who we are frequently told is not handsome, but nice, and then there’s Francis’s mother, Florence, who makes Mrs. Danvers seem warm and chummy in comparison. The story goes that they were once a wealthy family who operated a mine in this region, you see, but then came the Revolution, and then the mine flooded due to the incessant rains, and…oh, never mind.

Are you sure we’re in Mexico? The setting sounds more like British Columbia where the author resides. We increasingly get the impression that this isn’t the trip we were sold. The gothic is there, but one must search for the Mexican.

Much of the prose is written in fifty shades of purple—“The heart pumped blood and groaned and shivered, and it beat so loudly Noemí thought she’d go deaf.” (Now that’s loud.)

When all is considered, I think Lincoln would agree that people who like this kind of book will probably enjoy it.



This review first appeared in The Columbia River Reader (March 15, 2021.) Reprinted with permission.