Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the New York Times bestselling author of the novelsMexican Gothic,Gods of Jade and Shadow,Certain Dark Things,Untamed Shore, and a bunch of other books. She has also edited several anthologies, including the World Fantasy Award-winningShe Walks in Shadows(a.k.a.Cthulhu's Daughters). Find her at www.silviamoreno-garcia.com and on Twitter @silviamg

Untamed Shore by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Renowned author Silvia Moreno-Garcia's first thriller, UNTAMED SHORE, is a coming-of-age story set in Mexico which quickly turns dark when a young woman meets three enigmatic tourists.

Baja California, 1979. Viridiana spends her days watching the dead sharks piled beside the seashore, as the fishermen pull their nets. There is nothing else to do, nothing else to watch, under the harsh sun. She's bored. Terribly bored. Yet her head is filled with dreams of Hollywood films, of romance, of a future beyond the drab town where her only option is to marry and have children.

Three wealthy American tourists arrive for the summer, and Viridiana is magnetized. She immediately becomes entwined in the glamorous foreigners' lives. They offer excitement, and perhaps an escape from the promise of a humdrum future. When one of them dies, Viridiana lies to protect her friends. Soon enough, someone's asking questions, and Viridiana has some of her own about the identity of her new acquaintances. Sharks may be dangerous, but there are worse predators nearby, ready to devour a naïve young woman who is quickly being tangled in a web of deceit.

Silvia Moreno-Garcia is one of the most exciting voices in fiction, and with her first crime novel, UNTAMED SHORE, she crafts a blazing novel of suspense with an eerie seaside setting and a literary edge that proves her a master of the genre.

CURATOR'S NOTE

This book is great. Honestly. A slow-building sense of wrongness infects a small fishing town in 70s Mexico and romance and murder naturally follow. A terrific novel from the new Reina del gótico. – Lavie Tidhar

 

REVIEWS

  • "The descriptions of Baja are uncommonly evocative of gritty reality, with poverty and desperation made plain on the page, as well as the lengths people are willing to go to in order to escape...(an) insightful look at criminal life from the viewpoint of a sardonic yet lonely soul seems destined for more plaudits."

    – Booklist (Starred Review)
  • "This thriller sets a quiet tone before building slowly and evenly, showing how a meek teenager trapped by circumstance grows into a strong woman who takes control of her future, though in the end it might change who she is. For fans of Celeste Ng, Alafair Burke, and Kent Anderson."

    – Library Journal (Starred Review)
  • "The Great Gatsby meets Night of the Iguana in this elegantly spare and darkly twisted story of undercurrents, deception and colliding cultures. Rich in atmosphere and sinister in tone, this impressive debut is a haunting lesson in the dangers of desire and the illusion of glamour―and how dreams can be devoured by deceit."

    – Hank Phillipi Ryan, Nationally Bestselling author of THE MURDER LIST
 

BOOK PREVIEW

Excerpt

Gregory asked her how to get to the beach with the sharks and Viridiana gave him instructions. As the car bumped down a dirt road, she chewed on her lower lip.

"I don't think he treats her well," Viridiana said cautiously. "Have you noticed?"

"I'm not blind," Gregory said. He had both hands gripping the wheel and was frowning.

Viridiana grabbed her hat. It was a dark brown hat with a leather band. It resembled the sort of hats Boy Scout leaders wear. She ran a finger around the rim of the hat.

"I know Ambrose is an asshole," Gregory said. "Daisy knows it, too. But he's her dream man in other ways."

"What ways? He must be twenty years older than her."

"Try twenty-five. Anyway, Daisy has always wanted money, alright? A lot of money. That's what Ambrose has. He can buy her things and keep her happy that way. Daisy thinks it's a fair deal."

"You think it's fair?"

"Daisy would kick me out before she kicks Ambrose out."

"There, to the right," Viridiana said.

The sea came into view and Gregory parked the car. They walked toward the sharks and the fishermen assembled on the beach. She knew all of them. Under a little shack made of tin and wood planks there were three chairs and a radio, plus a folding table on which there lay two Chinese fans, cheap trinkets brought from Mexicali. There, the men played cards or evaded the sun for a few moments. By this impromptu structure the fishermen had set wooden stakes with shark mandibles, which shone under the sun. A boy, no more than thirteen, who had been sitting under the shade of the shack, scrambled to his feet and took out a bunch of necklaces with shark teeth from his pocket.

"Buy a souvenir, mister?" he asked in Spanish. Gregory waved him away.

"Ask again before we leave," Viridiana told the kid, because it was an unspoken pact between them that, should she bring people here, they'd have to buy something. The fishermen were not free performers.

Gregory took out his camera and began snapping pictures. He finally seemed satisfied with his subject. There were three boats by the shore, all of them having seen better days. Half a dozen fishermen stood nearby. They were drying shark meat that day, it hung from clotheslines, like laundry in the wind. The fins were dried flat, on wooden boards. Nearby two fresh carcasses were waiting to be sliced and salted. They fished for other things, of course, but their fathers had hunted sharks and so they hunted them, too. It defined them. It made them into people worthy of notice.

Viridiana wondered how her father defined her, or if, instead, she was supposed to be a carbon copy of her mother.

"How do they catch them?" Gregory asked, looking through the camera's viewfinder.

"They set up lines and the lines have hooks with bait, and then they return the next day. They find the shark there. Some say it 'drowns,' it dies of exhaustion, trying to get the hook out of its jaw. You can also set nets. And some folks—crazy folks—they harpoon them."

"It must be dangerous."

"Most sharks, they leave you alone. They don't swim right here by the shore, there's no killer shark waiting to snap you in two. Whale sharks, they eat plankton. But there's other ones who do have sharp teeth and you can't be an idiot. See that guy there with the checkered shirt?"

Gregory nodded, turning his camera in that direction.

"That's Carlos. He lost a leg."

Gregory slowly put the camera down, eyes narrowing. All the fishermen were wearing trousers, no shorts in sight. You could spot a tourist immediately because they were always in those ultra-short shorts that were in fashion, but the fishermen wouldn't be caught dead like that. Carlos was sitting down and he was wearing trousers, so it was impossible to verify Viridiana's statement.

"He's got a prosthesis now," Viridiana clarified.

"How did he lose it?"

"He was jumping off the cliffs. Sometimes the men do that. That day he cut himself against the rocks during a jump. He should have stayed out of the water after that. But the odds of a shark swimming so close by are slim. He was out of luck, because when he went into the water one last time, a shark came by and snapped his foot off and a chunk of leg."

"Jesus."

"Sharks haven't changed in millions of years. They know how to survive better than we do. And now, I suppose Carlos knows better, too."

Two fishermen were wading in the water, their trousers rolled up to their knees. Gregory ran a hand through his hair.

"Do you want to see the graveyard?" Viridiana asked.

"Sure."

They walked to the far end of the beach, the boy with the necklaces following in the hope of making a sale.

A lump, two became visible. Then, all of them. The corpses.

There lay the sad carcasses of sharks, the bits and pieces the fishermen couldn't sell or were not interested in. It was a festooning mass of flesh, dried by the sun, but still pungent. It reeked ferociously. Fat flies lazily flew by.

"God," Gregory said, pressing a hand against his mouth. "Why do they leave this stuff here? Why not toss it in the ocean?"

"If a shark smells another dead shark it won't swim nearby."

"That doesn't sound right. Really?"

"That's what they say."

"It looks awful."

She thought of the killing of the shark, how they tugged it up that day she convinced some of the fishermen to let her accompany them when she was ten. How the small shark seemed to revive, suddenly biting the sides of the boat, its teeth splintering wood, and down came a heavy club, beating it. First the mouth, then the head, slamming, slamming, slamming, until it lay still. There was no blood, but Viridiana recalled how the shark's gills shivered, softly rippling, how it did not move, but the gills still flexed.

An American once told her you couldn't club a shark to death, that you ought to put a bullet through its head, but he had never met the fishermen. He'd never been on a boat.

You can kill anything if you have enough willpower. Just don't lose your mettle, because the shark always knows. If you weaken, if you falter for a second, it'll strike back.

"They could bury them in the sand," Gregory said.

"It would take too much time and effort."

"It seems barbaric, like something out of prehistory."

Sometimes she thought there was a primordial quality to the land and the water, the sharps cliffs and the gulls flying above, the fiery sun upon the sea. As much as she felt the pull of Mexico City, the need to leave the peninsula behind, there was also the irresistible lure of the ocean.

Perhaps that's why she must go, and soon. Otherwise she would fuse with the land, as easily as the cacti cling to the soil, solid, unmovable. This world, it would swallow her.

Viridiana stared at the carcasses, at the bits left, frayed reminders of mighty beasts. "They say Baja California is the place where time stands still. So, yes, maybe it is barbaric, but it's also Baja California."

"Grim," Gregory said.

Gregory held his camera between his hands but he had snapped no photos of this sight. He seemed intimidated.

He suddenly lost his footing and placed a hand on her shoulder, slumping forward.

"I'm dizzy," he muttered.

Viridiana turned to the boy who had been trailing them. "Get him a drink," she ordered, and the boy ran off, back toward the fishermen.

"What the hell?" Gregory asked, his voice a whisper.

It was the heat, Viridiana thought, the heat and the stench of the shark carcasses. She shouldn't have brought him here. He had no hat, they'd packed no water. A rookie mistake. But he had been adamant about the sharks.

The boy raced back, three fishermen with him, curious to see what all the fuss was about. One of them carried an umbrella under his arm, while the boy produced a can which he handed to Viridiana. She in turn pressed it against Gregory's lips. Gregory sipped and frowned.

"What is that?" he asked.

"Coffee and condensed milk. Cream would spoil in this heat."

He made a face but he drank a bit more. The fisherman with the umbrella opened it and used it to shade Gregory as they walked away from the shark cemetery. When they reached the fishermen's encampment Gregory sat on one of the rickety chairs and tossed his camera on the folding table. Viridiana took off his denim jacket, peeled off his shirt, the undershirt too. The boy, having finally found a way to make himself useful, grabbed one of the cheap Chinese fans and began fanning Gregory.

"You have ice?" she asked one of the fishermen.

"Yeah," he said and he opened a battered white cooler filled with melting ice. Inside there were several bottles of beer and a milk jug filled with water. She handed the fisherman who had given her the cooler a bill and gave the kid another for their troubles. Satisfied, the kid left the fan on the table and ran off. The fisherman thanked her and the other onlookers dispersed, ready to fillet another shark.

Viridiana wrapped ice chips in Gregory's t-shirt and rubbed it against his chest.

"You know, normally you have to buy me dinner first before you get me half undressed," he told her, smiling.

She blushed and glanced down, her hand stilling against his chest. The radio was playing José José, who sang a cover of a Paul Anka song.

"Feeling better?" she asked.

"Yeah."

"I can drive us back."

"Sure. But there's no hurry. Right? Sit down."

Viridiana sat down, handing him the shirt with the ice. She grabbed the fan and opened it, examining it. A section of it had been ripped and taped together.

"You don't wear dresses."

Viridiana raised her head and looked at Gregory. "What?" she asked.

"I realized, it's very hot every day but you never wear dresses. Daisy wears dresses and heels."

"I wear dresses on Sunday, for church."

"No other day of the week?"

"I would normally be guiding tourists around this time of year. If you're going to be walking around you don't want frilly dresses and high heels. Anyway, why does it matter?" she asked, fanning herself and thinking of her worn jeans and t-shirts. Not exactly the attire for a discotheque.

Gregory leaned in her direction, the shirt pressed against his neck. His chest glistened, slick with sweat, still pale, he had escaped the sun's rays. How would he look after a few more days, skin turned golden by the sun? His eyes were very light and he was smiling like he knew a secret.

"I'm wondering if you have nice legs," he said.

The fishermen had taken out their knives and they were beginning to cut the shark which lay on the beach. She focused her eyes on them, the fan immobile in her right hand and in her throat a nervous little laugh which she was unable to supress.

The fishermen lopped the shark's head off.

* * *

A few days later they had a casino night. That's what Gregory called it. He asked Viridiana to get potato chips and sodas and peanuts, and all manner of snacks that Ambrose liked. Gregory picked through Milton's record collection and assembled a good enough mix of music. Daisy dressed herself in a stunning white dress, and they all gathered in the living room to play poker.

It was obvious, even to Viridiana's untrained eye, that Ambrose was terrible at this game. His face reflected each and every one of his thoughts. It was also obvious that Gregory played well and let Ambrose win on purpose, but he did it with such grace and skill that Ambrose did not realize. If he did, he appreciated the performance.

"You'll wipe me out," Ambrose said, after Gregory had won a couple of hands, although the tide would soon turn.

"Never. But pay attention. I know my brother. He might be hiding a card under that sleeve," Daisy said, smiling.

"There's not a hidden card anywhere," Gregory said. "Viridiana can search me if you want proof."

Gregory smiled at her and Viridiana felt herself blushing. She didn't know how to play and was there to bring them drinks and snacks, to change the records, to be witness to this festivity rather than a participant. She did not mind. It felt like sitting in the front row of a theater and watching a movie.

Okay, maybe she would have liked if they asked her to play one hand with them. Maybe she'd have liked to slip into a pretty dress, as pretty as Daisy's, instead of standing there in her jeans, darting in and out of the room when needed. But she was an extra in this film. They were the protagonists.

"That's a good excuse!" Ambrose said, chuckling. "Don't let him get anywhere near you, girl. He's a menace."

Viridiana still didn't like Ambrose, but he was cordial that evening and when he and Daisy retired Viridiana was in the most splendid of moods. While they played Daisy had chatted so amicably with her that Viridiana could not believe the woman had ever been rude to her the other day. She decided it had been an unusual outburst and that it had meant nothing.

Then she wondered if Daisy told herself the same thing when she had a fight with Ambrose, but was not willing to dwell on that.

"Your life is like this all the time, isn't it?" she asked Gregory. He had stayed downstairs, smoking a cigarette and listening to a Diana Ross album while Viridiana lingered near him, with the flimsy excuse that she should tidy up a bit, or Delfina would think them all very dirty and rude when she came to clean next time.

"It's all parties and fun," she said when he looked at her in confusion.

"I can't complain. Let me help you carry those," he said, grabbing a couple of glasses.

They went into the kitchen and dumped the dishes and glasses in the sink. He stood next to her, smiling and smoking. He hadn't mentioned anything else about her legs or any of her other physical attributes. She wondered how he saw her. Whether he thought she was too much, or too little, of something. She wondered whether he noticed how she'd blushed that evening and why he wasn't talking, why they were standing in silence in the kitchen.

Diana Ross was still playing in the living room. Viridiana could hear the muffled notes of her song.

"Feeling exclusive?" she asked him. It was from A Place in the Sun, this line she plucked from a movie for the sake of saying something.

"What?" he asked with a chuckle and he gave her a huge smile. His fingers grazed her arm.

"Nothing. I should go to bed," she said quickly. The ghostly sensation of his fingers—if he had even touched her—gave her goosebumps.