Silver Nitrate

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On sale May 21, 2024 | 368 Pages | 978-0-593-35538-1
NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the author of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau and Mexican Gothic comes a fabulous meld of Mexican horror movies and Nazi occultism: a dark thriller about the curse that haunts a legendary lost film—and awakens one woman’s hidden powers.

“No one punctures the skin of reality to reveal the lurking, sinister magic beneath better than Silvia Moreno-Garcia.”—Kiersten White, author of Hide


LOCUS AWARD FINALIST • A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Tordotcom, Polygon, CrimeReads, BookPage, Book Riot

Montserrat has always been overlooked. She’s a talented sound editor, but she’s left out of the boys’ club running the film industry in ’90s Mexico City. And she’s all but invisible to her best friend, Tristán, a charming if faded soap opera star, though she’s been in love with him since childhood.

Then Tristán discovers his new neighbor is the cult horror director Abel Urueta, and the legendary auteur claims he can change their lives—even if his tale of a Nazi occultist imbuing magic into highly volatile silver nitrate stock sounds like sheer fantasy. The magic film was never finished, which is why, Urueta swears, his career vanished overnight. He is cursed.

Now the director wants Montserrat and Tristán to help him shoot the missing scene and lift the curse . . . but Montserrat soon notices a dark presence following her, and Tristán begins seeing the ghost of his ex-girlfriend.

As they work together to unravel the mystery of the film and the obscure occultist who once roamed their city, Montserrat and Tristán may find that sorcerers and magic are not only the stuff of movies.
© Martin Dee
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novels Velvet Was the Night, Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and a bunch of other books. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award–winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). She has been nominated for the Locus Award for her work as an editor and has won the British Fantasy Award and the Locus Award for her work as a novelist. View titles by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
1

An engorged, yellow moon painted the sky a sickly amber hue, illuminating a solitary figure. A woman, standing between two sycamore trees.

It had rained, and the earth was slippery as, breathing with difficulty, she ventured toward the cabin. The woods felt awake and dangerous, with the sounds of crickets and rolling thunder in the distance. There was a thin humming. Was that a bird? It was too high-­pitched, that noise.

The woman pressed a hand against her lips and stared at the cabin, with its welcoming lights. But that oasis of warmth was distant. A twig snapped, and the woman looked behind her in terror. She began to run.

The noises of the night were now mixed with the patter of her feet. She flew forward, and her hands desperately pulled at the front door—­there was a thump, so loud it sounded like a cannon—­until she finally managed to burst into the cabin. She immediately shut the door, bolted it, and stepped back, waiting. Her eyes were wide.

The crash of an axe against the wood made the woman jump. Splinters flew. The woman screamed, pressing back farther into the room as a man hacked his way through the door. The scream was an annoying squeal that made the levels jump into the red. The man lingered at the threshold, clutching the axe. He began advancing; his breath was heavy, punctuated with an annoying pop. 

“Demon possession again?” Montserrat asked. Her eyes were on the VU meter; on her knee she balanced a notepad.

“Ghosts,” Paco said.

She scribbled in the notepad. “I thought you were into ninjas.”

“We’re still doing the ninjas. Just not now.”

“A ninja moratorium.”

The woman screamed again. Montserrat pressed a button. The image froze on the screen. She spun her chair around.

The padded room smelled faintly of the pine-­scented air freshener that the other sound editors liked to spray around to cover up the fact that they were smoking inside. The whole place was a bit of a mess. The editors regularly left pizza boxes and empty bottles of Pepsi around the mixing room, along with the scent of cigarettes. “No food or smoking in the editing room” said a sign half hidden behind the random stickers the editors had pasted on it over the years. In theory, this admonition made sense, especially when you were dealing with film. You didn’t want to smear a workprint with grease. In practice, though, all editors were supposed to eat in front of the monitors. You were constantly working your ass off in post-­production, trying to make up for missed deadlines. Montserrat had never been in a facility that was perfectly neat and organized. Editing rooms all looked like war zones unless a client was poking their head around.

Still, she might have tidied up if Paco hadn’t ambushed her. Unfortunately for him, this particular mixing room was small and, unlike the bigger rooms, didn’t have a client area with a couch. Paco was sitting uncomfortably on a chair, by the door, next to a pile of tapes and vinyl rec­ords, and from the look of his position he was probably getting a cramp.

“So, what do you think?” Paco asked.

“I think this is the kind of shit you shouldn’t have to be fixing in post-­production. Did you shoot these scenes inside a washing machine? The sound is terrible. Those levels are way too hot.”

“I know, I know. But what can you expect with these budgets?”

“It’s going to take me a couple of weeks.”

“I need it to be done in five days.”

Montserrat shot him a skeptical look. “Not likely. Mario will tell you as much.”

“Come on, I’m not asking Mario, I’m asking you.”

“I don’t want to be stuck here from the crack of dawn until midnight because you forgot to hire a person who can hold a boom mike in the right position.”

“Don’t do this to me. I’ve got hundreds of units due at Videocentro and can’t run the duplicates if the master is a mess. Don’t you get overtime for this stuff? Must be a hefty check.”

“I wish,” she said.

Though there was the yearly discretionary bonus. The full-­timers got the aguinaldo mandated by the law, but freelancers like Montserrat couldn’t count on that. They had to rely on the gratitude of their employers. At Antares, Mario gave his editors a turkey, a bottle of cheap whiskey, and a Christmas bonus. It was never a generous bonus—­it shrank or expanded at whim—­this despite the fact she was by far the best sound editor at Antares. She was also the only woman on the Antares team, aside from the receptionist, which was probably why she never became a full-timer, never had the right to an aguinaldo, and instead had to rely on Mario’s mercurial temper: the editing business was a boys’ club. There were a few women working at studios writing the scripts that were used for subtitling and dubbing. There were also female translators, though those were often freelancers who were contracted for single projects. But full-­time female sound editors? Those were as rare as unicorns.

“Look, I have to meet someone for lunch,” Montserrat said, grabbing her leather jacket from the hook by the door and slipping it on. “Why don’t you talk to Mario and we’ll see what he says? I’d love to help, but he was raging about an unpaid dubbing—­”

“Come on, guys, I always pay even if I’m a few days late. As soon as I offload those videos I’ll be golden, I swear.”

Montserrat didn’t know how true that was. Paco had scored a modest hit with an Exorcist rip-­off a few years before. Mexican horror movies were scarce these days. Paco had reaped the benefits of a nascent home video market a few years back. But he wasn’t doing well anymore. Four years before, René Cardona III had tried the same concept: shooting a low-­budget horror copy of a hot American film with Vacaciones de Terror. Although Vacaciones was a blatant attempt at mixing Child’s Play with Amity­ville, the film had one semi-­famous star in the form of Pedro Fernández, whose singing career had assured at least a few butts in seats. Vacaciones de Terror and its obligatory sequel had performed decently, but the market for local horror productions wasn’t substantial enough to support two filmmakers intent on churning out scary flicks, and Paco didn’t have a singer to put on the marquee.

Not that there was a market to produce anything with a semi-­decent budget at this point. The best that most people could hope for were exploitation flicks like Lola La Trailera. Paco was, if anything, a little better off than most Mexican filmmakers, since he’d managed to rope a few Spanish financiers into his moviemaking schemes and so the bulk of his output was meant for the European market. He’d dump a bunch of copies at Videocentro, then sell the rest to Italy, Germany, or whoever had any dough to spare. Paco’s work was slightly more nutritious fare than what most of the other exploitation hounds offered, but nothing to get excited about.

“Montserrat, come on, darling, you know I’m solid. How about we do this: I pay you the overtime. I’ll throw in . . . oh, how much would you want?” he asked, reaching into his pocket and producing a wallet.

“God, Paco, you don’t have to bribe me.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

Montserrat had been working at Antares for the past seven years. She’d never made it into the two big film studios, but you had to be the son of someone to edit at a place like that. Positions were passed down through the STPC and STIC like knighthoods. Now that Estudios América was being dismantled, the movie business was even more of a mess than before, and competition for positions was cutthroat. Antares had been, when you added all the pluses and minuses, not that bad.

Not that bad, that is, until the previous year, when the company had hired a new sound editor. Everyone loved young people and despised old ones. Help wanted ads always specified “35 and under,” sometimes even “30 and under.” Samuel, the newest member of the team, was definitely under thirty. Mario had funneled a bunch of assignments to Samuel, in part because his youth meant he was one of their lowest paid employees. Antares saved money with Samuel. And, as a result, Montserrat had been pulled from several projects. She’d gone from working five, sometimes six days a week, to three, and she was sure Mario was going to cut her down to two by December. Maybe they’d end up assigning this job to Samuel.

Crap, she needed to make more money. Her sister didn’t ask her for anything, but Montserrat knew she was hurting a little. She had been working only part-­time for half a year now; the cancer treatments were too exhausting for her to manage her usual workload at the accounting firm. Montserrat tried to chip in when she could.

“Follow me,” she muttered, looking at her watch. She’d be late if she didn’t step out now.
“True to her method, [Moreno-Garcia] succeeds here by knowing when to follow the rules of genre storytelling and when to turn them upside down.”Los Angeles Times

“Like its namesake, Silver Nitrate catches fire and doesn’t stop burning until the end.”The Washington Post

“Wows you with its eerie atmosphere and deft blend of historical fiction, horror and black magic.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Moreno-Garcia makes darkness shine.”—NPR

“An engaging, inventive story of moviemaking and the occult.”—Kirkus Reviews “Another instant classic from one of our best genre authors.”—Paste

“[A] gripping and atmospheric thriller.”—Arlington Magazine

“Silvia Moreno-Garcia . . . is one of the most talented writers publishing today.”—Ms. “Silver Nitrate is a world of its own.”—Shondaland

“Silvia Moreno-Garcia proves, once again, that she is one of the most talented writers publishing today.”Ms.

“[A] gripping and atmospheric thriller that seamlessly blends history and magic.”Arlington Magazine

“Hip as hell, Silver Nitrate delivers a cinematic and exhilarating punch. Silvia Moreno-Garcia does it again with this creepy and unforgettable occult thriller, teeming with the decadence of old horror movies.”—Kali Fajardo-Anstine, bestselling author of Woman of Light and Sabrina & Corina

“Perfection. No one punctures the skin of reality to reveal the lurking, sinister magic beneath better than Silvia Moreno-Garcia.”—Kiersten White, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hide

“Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a treasure and Silver Nitrate is a gem: a chilling roller coaster of a tale that captures perfectly why we love horror movies, scary books, and things that go bump in the night.”—Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Lioness

Silver Nitrate is a popcorn thrill ride into the underbelly of 1990s Mexican horror movies and occultism. Moreno-Garcia crafts a world so rich with details and history that you won’t be able to look away.”—Dana Schwartz, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anatomy: A Love Story

“You don’t just read this book, you live in it—and it will charm you, intrigue you, and scare the daylights out of you.”—Tim Powers, World Fantasy Award–winning author of The Anubis Gates

“Moreno-Garcia’s prose is enchanting, full of perfect phrases that dot every page.”BookPage (starred review)

“A love letter to Mexico City’s film industry and an excellent entry into the popular horror subgenre of occult films.”Library Journal

“An engaging, inventive story of moviemaking and the occult for film geeks and genre buffs.”Kirkus Reviews

“This is a knockout.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Silvia Moreno-Garcia Analyzes Horror Films that Inspired Her Novel SILVER NITRATE

About

NATIONAL BESTSELLER • From the author of The Daughter of Doctor Moreau and Mexican Gothic comes a fabulous meld of Mexican horror movies and Nazi occultism: a dark thriller about the curse that haunts a legendary lost film—and awakens one woman’s hidden powers.

“No one punctures the skin of reality to reveal the lurking, sinister magic beneath better than Silvia Moreno-Garcia.”—Kiersten White, author of Hide


LOCUS AWARD FINALIST • A BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR: The New York Times Book Review, The Washington Post, Tordotcom, Polygon, CrimeReads, BookPage, Book Riot

Montserrat has always been overlooked. She’s a talented sound editor, but she’s left out of the boys’ club running the film industry in ’90s Mexico City. And she’s all but invisible to her best friend, Tristán, a charming if faded soap opera star, though she’s been in love with him since childhood.

Then Tristán discovers his new neighbor is the cult horror director Abel Urueta, and the legendary auteur claims he can change their lives—even if his tale of a Nazi occultist imbuing magic into highly volatile silver nitrate stock sounds like sheer fantasy. The magic film was never finished, which is why, Urueta swears, his career vanished overnight. He is cursed.

Now the director wants Montserrat and Tristán to help him shoot the missing scene and lift the curse . . . but Montserrat soon notices a dark presence following her, and Tristán begins seeing the ghost of his ex-girlfriend.

As they work together to unravel the mystery of the film and the obscure occultist who once roamed their city, Montserrat and Tristán may find that sorcerers and magic are not only the stuff of movies.

Creators

© Martin Dee
Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of the novels Velvet Was the Night, Mexican Gothic, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and a bunch of other books. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award–winning She Walks in Shadows (a.k.a. Cthulhu’s Daughters). She has been nominated for the Locus Award for her work as an editor and has won the British Fantasy Award and the Locus Award for her work as a novelist. View titles by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Excerpt

1

An engorged, yellow moon painted the sky a sickly amber hue, illuminating a solitary figure. A woman, standing between two sycamore trees.

It had rained, and the earth was slippery as, breathing with difficulty, she ventured toward the cabin. The woods felt awake and dangerous, with the sounds of crickets and rolling thunder in the distance. There was a thin humming. Was that a bird? It was too high-­pitched, that noise.

The woman pressed a hand against her lips and stared at the cabin, with its welcoming lights. But that oasis of warmth was distant. A twig snapped, and the woman looked behind her in terror. She began to run.

The noises of the night were now mixed with the patter of her feet. She flew forward, and her hands desperately pulled at the front door—­there was a thump, so loud it sounded like a cannon—­until she finally managed to burst into the cabin. She immediately shut the door, bolted it, and stepped back, waiting. Her eyes were wide.

The crash of an axe against the wood made the woman jump. Splinters flew. The woman screamed, pressing back farther into the room as a man hacked his way through the door. The scream was an annoying squeal that made the levels jump into the red. The man lingered at the threshold, clutching the axe. He began advancing; his breath was heavy, punctuated with an annoying pop. 

“Demon possession again?” Montserrat asked. Her eyes were on the VU meter; on her knee she balanced a notepad.

“Ghosts,” Paco said.

She scribbled in the notepad. “I thought you were into ninjas.”

“We’re still doing the ninjas. Just not now.”

“A ninja moratorium.”

The woman screamed again. Montserrat pressed a button. The image froze on the screen. She spun her chair around.

The padded room smelled faintly of the pine-­scented air freshener that the other sound editors liked to spray around to cover up the fact that they were smoking inside. The whole place was a bit of a mess. The editors regularly left pizza boxes and empty bottles of Pepsi around the mixing room, along with the scent of cigarettes. “No food or smoking in the editing room” said a sign half hidden behind the random stickers the editors had pasted on it over the years. In theory, this admonition made sense, especially when you were dealing with film. You didn’t want to smear a workprint with grease. In practice, though, all editors were supposed to eat in front of the monitors. You were constantly working your ass off in post-­production, trying to make up for missed deadlines. Montserrat had never been in a facility that was perfectly neat and organized. Editing rooms all looked like war zones unless a client was poking their head around.

Still, she might have tidied up if Paco hadn’t ambushed her. Unfortunately for him, this particular mixing room was small and, unlike the bigger rooms, didn’t have a client area with a couch. Paco was sitting uncomfortably on a chair, by the door, next to a pile of tapes and vinyl rec­ords, and from the look of his position he was probably getting a cramp.

“So, what do you think?” Paco asked.

“I think this is the kind of shit you shouldn’t have to be fixing in post-­production. Did you shoot these scenes inside a washing machine? The sound is terrible. Those levels are way too hot.”

“I know, I know. But what can you expect with these budgets?”

“It’s going to take me a couple of weeks.”

“I need it to be done in five days.”

Montserrat shot him a skeptical look. “Not likely. Mario will tell you as much.”

“Come on, I’m not asking Mario, I’m asking you.”

“I don’t want to be stuck here from the crack of dawn until midnight because you forgot to hire a person who can hold a boom mike in the right position.”

“Don’t do this to me. I’ve got hundreds of units due at Videocentro and can’t run the duplicates if the master is a mess. Don’t you get overtime for this stuff? Must be a hefty check.”

“I wish,” she said.

Though there was the yearly discretionary bonus. The full-­timers got the aguinaldo mandated by the law, but freelancers like Montserrat couldn’t count on that. They had to rely on the gratitude of their employers. At Antares, Mario gave his editors a turkey, a bottle of cheap whiskey, and a Christmas bonus. It was never a generous bonus—­it shrank or expanded at whim—­this despite the fact she was by far the best sound editor at Antares. She was also the only woman on the Antares team, aside from the receptionist, which was probably why she never became a full-timer, never had the right to an aguinaldo, and instead had to rely on Mario’s mercurial temper: the editing business was a boys’ club. There were a few women working at studios writing the scripts that were used for subtitling and dubbing. There were also female translators, though those were often freelancers who were contracted for single projects. But full-­time female sound editors? Those were as rare as unicorns.

“Look, I have to meet someone for lunch,” Montserrat said, grabbing her leather jacket from the hook by the door and slipping it on. “Why don’t you talk to Mario and we’ll see what he says? I’d love to help, but he was raging about an unpaid dubbing—­”

“Come on, guys, I always pay even if I’m a few days late. As soon as I offload those videos I’ll be golden, I swear.”

Montserrat didn’t know how true that was. Paco had scored a modest hit with an Exorcist rip-­off a few years before. Mexican horror movies were scarce these days. Paco had reaped the benefits of a nascent home video market a few years back. But he wasn’t doing well anymore. Four years before, René Cardona III had tried the same concept: shooting a low-­budget horror copy of a hot American film with Vacaciones de Terror. Although Vacaciones was a blatant attempt at mixing Child’s Play with Amity­ville, the film had one semi-­famous star in the form of Pedro Fernández, whose singing career had assured at least a few butts in seats. Vacaciones de Terror and its obligatory sequel had performed decently, but the market for local horror productions wasn’t substantial enough to support two filmmakers intent on churning out scary flicks, and Paco didn’t have a singer to put on the marquee.

Not that there was a market to produce anything with a semi-­decent budget at this point. The best that most people could hope for were exploitation flicks like Lola La Trailera. Paco was, if anything, a little better off than most Mexican filmmakers, since he’d managed to rope a few Spanish financiers into his moviemaking schemes and so the bulk of his output was meant for the European market. He’d dump a bunch of copies at Videocentro, then sell the rest to Italy, Germany, or whoever had any dough to spare. Paco’s work was slightly more nutritious fare than what most of the other exploitation hounds offered, but nothing to get excited about.

“Montserrat, come on, darling, you know I’m solid. How about we do this: I pay you the overtime. I’ll throw in . . . oh, how much would you want?” he asked, reaching into his pocket and producing a wallet.

“God, Paco, you don’t have to bribe me.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

Montserrat had been working at Antares for the past seven years. She’d never made it into the two big film studios, but you had to be the son of someone to edit at a place like that. Positions were passed down through the STPC and STIC like knighthoods. Now that Estudios América was being dismantled, the movie business was even more of a mess than before, and competition for positions was cutthroat. Antares had been, when you added all the pluses and minuses, not that bad.

Not that bad, that is, until the previous year, when the company had hired a new sound editor. Everyone loved young people and despised old ones. Help wanted ads always specified “35 and under,” sometimes even “30 and under.” Samuel, the newest member of the team, was definitely under thirty. Mario had funneled a bunch of assignments to Samuel, in part because his youth meant he was one of their lowest paid employees. Antares saved money with Samuel. And, as a result, Montserrat had been pulled from several projects. She’d gone from working five, sometimes six days a week, to three, and she was sure Mario was going to cut her down to two by December. Maybe they’d end up assigning this job to Samuel.

Crap, she needed to make more money. Her sister didn’t ask her for anything, but Montserrat knew she was hurting a little. She had been working only part-­time for half a year now; the cancer treatments were too exhausting for her to manage her usual workload at the accounting firm. Montserrat tried to chip in when she could.

“Follow me,” she muttered, looking at her watch. She’d be late if she didn’t step out now.

Praise

“True to her method, [Moreno-Garcia] succeeds here by knowing when to follow the rules of genre storytelling and when to turn them upside down.”Los Angeles Times

“Like its namesake, Silver Nitrate catches fire and doesn’t stop burning until the end.”The Washington Post

“Wows you with its eerie atmosphere and deft blend of historical fiction, horror and black magic.”—The New York Times Book Review

“Moreno-Garcia makes darkness shine.”—NPR

“An engaging, inventive story of moviemaking and the occult.”—Kirkus Reviews “Another instant classic from one of our best genre authors.”—Paste

“[A] gripping and atmospheric thriller.”—Arlington Magazine

“Silvia Moreno-Garcia . . . is one of the most talented writers publishing today.”—Ms. “Silver Nitrate is a world of its own.”—Shondaland

“Silvia Moreno-Garcia proves, once again, that she is one of the most talented writers publishing today.”Ms.

“[A] gripping and atmospheric thriller that seamlessly blends history and magic.”Arlington Magazine

“Hip as hell, Silver Nitrate delivers a cinematic and exhilarating punch. Silvia Moreno-Garcia does it again with this creepy and unforgettable occult thriller, teeming with the decadence of old horror movies.”—Kali Fajardo-Anstine, bestselling author of Woman of Light and Sabrina & Corina

“Perfection. No one punctures the skin of reality to reveal the lurking, sinister magic beneath better than Silvia Moreno-Garcia.”—Kiersten White, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Hide

“Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a treasure and Silver Nitrate is a gem: a chilling roller coaster of a tale that captures perfectly why we love horror movies, scary books, and things that go bump in the night.”—Chris Bohjalian, New York Times bestselling author of The Lioness

Silver Nitrate is a popcorn thrill ride into the underbelly of 1990s Mexican horror movies and occultism. Moreno-Garcia crafts a world so rich with details and history that you won’t be able to look away.”—Dana Schwartz, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Anatomy: A Love Story

“You don’t just read this book, you live in it—and it will charm you, intrigue you, and scare the daylights out of you.”—Tim Powers, World Fantasy Award–winning author of The Anubis Gates

“Moreno-Garcia’s prose is enchanting, full of perfect phrases that dot every page.”BookPage (starred review)

“A love letter to Mexico City’s film industry and an excellent entry into the popular horror subgenre of occult films.”Library Journal

“An engaging, inventive story of moviemaking and the occult for film geeks and genre buffs.”Kirkus Reviews

“This is a knockout.”Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Media

Silvia Moreno-Garcia Analyzes Horror Films that Inspired Her Novel SILVER NITRATE