Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s 2020 Mexican Gothic is a standalone Mexican Gothic novel. As you might expect.
Young socialite Noemí Taboada is yanked out of her comfortable school and party-going life by her father. He has recently received an astonishing letter from Noemí’s cousin Catalina, married some months previously to Virgil Doyle. Concerned for Catalina’s well-being, Noemí’s father has been unable to convince Virgil to bring Catalina to Mexico City for a psychiatric assessment. Having no better alternative, Mr. Taboada dispatches Noemí to visit her cousin.
If he knew more about the Doyles, he most certainly would not have done this, but of course the Doyles have gone to great lengths to avoid publicity.
The Doyle clan lives in the High Place, a ramshackle Victorian mansion near backwater El Triunfo. The town and the Doyles were dependent on the local silver mine. The mine shut down during the Revolution. Since then the Doyles have been living off their capital. This will not last forever … which suggests that Virgil’s primary interest in orphaned Catalina was her family fortune.
If genteel poverty were not alarming enough, the mine, and the Doyles, have had a colourful history. There was an epidemic, which wiped out all the miners back when the mine was operating. More recently, Miss Ruth Doyle fatally shot her husband-to-be, her mother, her aunt, and her uncle, and wounded her father. Plague and madness are, it seems, known hazards at the High Place; judging by Catalina’s behavior, she has fallen victim to the madness.
Alas, the reality is much worse. Ancient family patriarch Howard Doyle has an iron hold on his family. Howard is an avid eugenicist, with grand schemes to shepherd his family towards genetic perfection. Inexplicably, generations of inbreeding within the Doyle clan has cursed them with low fertility. Thus, Virgil’s whirlwind marriage to Catalina. Howard assesses Noemí as even more suited to his breeding program than fragile Catalina. She would make a suitable consort for Francis Doyle.
Creepy, inbred, English racists with peculiar ideas about heredity, a taste for Mexican debutantes, and a great need for liquid assets would be alarming enough. As Noemí slowly realizes, there is something untoward sharing the High Place with the Doyles. What precisely it may be is unclear. What is clear is that those it calls its own never leave, and it is very interested in Noemí.
It’s probably never a good sign if one’s hosts speak knowledgably and favourably about Cesare Lombrozo’s work. To quote
(Noemí) no longer wondered if Howard Doyle had a pair of calipers; now she wondered how many he kept.
Noemí namechecks the Habsburgs as an example of what you can achieve with a few centuries of careful breeding. Her particular field is anthropology and it’s a shame she will almost certainly never publish a monograph about the curious practices of the Doyle clan.
While this book is undeniably a gothic, it’s also a hard SF tale. Noemí gets good use out of her academic background, although she would have been even better prepared had her field been … but that would be a spoiler. In any case, while the events depicted are lurid, they fall within the realm of phenomena observed in nature. Plausibility enhances the intensely creepy atmosphere.
Moreno-Garcia has a World Fantasy Award and a shelf-full of nominations to go with it. Unsurprising, therefore, that the prose is so engaging and characters so vivid. I think I might be nominating this novel for a Hugo in 2021.