Title: Untamed Shore
Author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Publisher: Agora Books
Release Date: February 11th 2020
**I received a copy of this book from the publisher, which does not influence my review**
Silvia Moreno-Garcia first crime novel, Untamed Shore, takes readers on a harrowing journey in a small town in Baja California. Viridiana knows there isn’t much for her in Desengaño. The dilapidated town once paid host to fishermen looking to make it in the shark hunting business, but as that industry lost its luster so did the town’s appeal to outsiders. When three American tourists make their way to Viridiana’s corner of the world, she’s offered a temporary job as one of their personal assistants. A job that comes with more money she could ever dream of making during the meager tourist season or working behind the counter of her mom’s shop. But Viridiana gets more than she’d bargained for when one night one of the foreigners ends up dead and Viridiana finds herself caught in a web of lies she might not be able to find her way out of.
Untamed Shore takes its time getting started. Moreno-Garcia vividly captures the atmosphere of small-town living and the discontentment of those like Viridiana, who dream of something more than the hand she’s been dealt. There’s a sense of isolation and confinement to this setting. Viridiana feels like a character who’s outgrown her town, but isn’t sure if there are any outs for her. This is part of the appeal of the American tourists she meets. Viridiana experiences her town through their eyes. Though Viridiana is extremely bright, having graduated early and is fluent in many languages, she is more or less wasting her time in this small town. Her talents have gone underappreciated, but she can’t see a way out when her mother insists she stay behind to help with her half siblings or worse, get married and settle down. I didn’t truly fall into the story until the second half when Viridiana is caught in an impossible situation. Her only way of escape is to lie and manipulate and in the end, there’s a good chance not even these things can save her.
When the glamorous Daisy and her husband and brother arrive, Viridiana cannot help but fall under their spell. The self-important Ambrose with money to burn may not be all that friendly, but he has the kind of freedom people in town can only dream of having. His much younger wife Daisy is friendly enough, even if her mood sours without warning, as likely to offer a gracious smile as a condescending retort. Gregory quickly draws Viridiana’s eye and it’s difficult to ignore his charms especially when his kisses are so thrilling. But underneath these masks, something dark lingers. Viridiana’s naivety gets her caught in a game where she doesn’t know the rules. She has more to lose because she doesn’t have the kind of resources these Americans have and one wrong move could leave her ruined forever while these tourists are free go back to their carefree lives. The town in which Viridiana lives, is appropriately called Desengaño, meaning disillusionment. This is the crux of the novel, it is a young woman’s journey discovering just how dangerous self-delusion can be.
Untamed Shore is slow-paced thriller but with deceptive faces at every corner and a surprisingly vicious ending, it’s hard to look away.
★ ★ ★