Interview: Author Alex Segura Talks About His Noir Hero, Pete Fernandez and His Latest Novel ‘Dangerous Ends’
When we last spoke to Alex Segura here at TuffGnarl.com he was embarking on giving readers and crime fiction fans their second dose of the Miami set noir adventures of reporter Pete Fernandez. Almost a year later Segura is bringing us a third new novel, Dangerous Ends, set in the magic city. The book hits shelves this week. As both a huge fan and a fellow Miami native, I was super stoked to be able to once again chat with Alex about his latest book, what influenced it and what lies ahead for his flawed hero Pete Fernandez.
TuffGnarl.com: So, Alex, this is your third Pete Fernandez book. For those unlucky readers who haven’t had a chance to check out the series yet, give us a quick rundown of who Pete Fernandez is.
Alex Segura: First off, thanks for having me. This’ll be fun. Okay so Pete, when we meet him in the pages of Silent City, is a washed up ex-reporter who’s stuck on the copy desk of The Miami Times, a daily newspaper in the MIA. He’s just moved back home from New Jersey in the wake of his father’s death. His fiancé’s just bailed on him and he’s drinking. A lot. When we meet him, he’s waking up from a bender and trying to get through the day. This is a guy who was an acclaimed reporter and on the rise, but lost it all. He’s also not doing too hot at his current job and could be fired at any moment. As he closes down on another night of putting the sports section to bed, Pete’s approached by a co-worker he barely knows. He asks Pete to help find his missing daughter, Kathy Bentley. Intrigued, Pete goes with it – but soon discovers the path to finding Kathy isn’t an easy one and his drinking and erratic nature don’t help. See, Kathy’s disappearance is entangled in a bigger Miami mystery, involving a killer of killers known only as the Silent Death. Pretty soon, Pete is in his cross-hairs and he has to find a way to not only survive but do what he promised he would.
Down the Darkest Street the sequel to Silent City finds Pete in another precarious position – trying to stay sober while living with his ex, who is on a break from her husband. A series of murders give Pete a strange case of deja vu and – paired with Kathy Bentley – he discovers that Miami has a new serial killer with a familiar m.o.. As Pete and Kathy inch closer to discover the killer’s identity before he can strike again the FBI becomes involved and Pete’s own demons begin to manifest again, dragging him down to depths he’d never thought possible.
When was Pete born in your head?
I don’t have a specific date or moment but he appeared almost fully-formed when I realized what I wanted to do. Namely to write a detective novel starring a Cuban-American protagonist and set in Miami. Then he kind of appeared [as] an amalgamation of a lot of people I knew growing up. He’s changed a lot since then which has been interesting to watch but part of the idea was to give him this journey – as opposed to starting when he was already an established detective. I wanted to showcase that origin story and give readers the chance to get rolling with him.
When we last left Pete in Down The Darkest Street, he was officially embarking on his P.I. career. Where does Dangerous Ends find Pete? Describe the story without of course spoiling it.
By the time we see Pete in Dangerous Ends he’s settled into a somewhat calmer and more boring life. He’s back to being sober, he’s doing PI work full-time and he’s trying to live a simpler less complicated life. But all that goes out the window when Kathy brings him into something she’s working on – the case of Gaspar Varela, an ex-Miami Narcotics officer spending life in prison for the vicious murder of his wife ten years ago. The case was one of Miami’s most talked-about and controversial cases ever with many believing Varela’s tale of a mysterious gang of killers and others certain that the former cop had taken his own wife out to live a bachelor life. Pete and Kathy are hired by Varela’s daughter, Maya, to find a sliver of evidence that might help her get Gaspar a new trial. No easy feat – especially when Pete isn’t sure the guy is innocent to begin with. At the same time a deadly street gang known as Los Enfermos is gunning for Pete and Kathy the closer they get to the truth and they seem to have a strong, dangerous connection to the Castro regime and Pete’s family’s own past.
Was this heavy connection to Cuba and Cuban-American history something you always wanted to work into Pete’s adventures? Anything about that history that was of particular influence or interest?
It was but it wasn’t something I thought I could write out of the gate. I needed to introduce Pete and his cast to readers and I also needed to really show him at his lowest, which I accomplished with Down the Darkest Street. Dangerous Ends shows us a more confident, but still flawed Pete and he’s really on the brink of becoming what we’d hoped for when we first met him in Silent City. I’m a big fan of sprawling mysteries that involve history and multiple perspectives like James Ellroy’s American Underworld books. I wanted to do something that wasn’t just about a present-day mystery but also tied back to Pete’s own heritage and in many ways the heritage of Miami. I wanted to show how embedded Cuba is in all of us that come from a Cuban-American family. How those stories of an island just 90 miles away can seem so far but also feel so current. I don’t want to spoil anything but the story ties together in a meaningful way for Pete in terms of where he’s from and what he’s been through.
Have the books ever been translated into Spanish?
Not yet but I’d love to see that happen. I think it’d be a great fit.
Miami has a very colorful and downright violent criminal history. How much does any of Miami’s real crime history or real life underworld figures inspire your books?
I try to follow Miami as well as I can from thousands of miles away and through a few visits a year. I try to keep up on crime and politics because you’re right Miami crime is unlike any other city. From Al Capone to the Dadeland Mall shooting to Cocaine Cowboys-era drug wars to face-eating psychopaths Miami is never at a shortage for insane crime stories. I try to keep my finger on the pulse of that because it’s a constant source of inspiration.
Are there any famous Miami cases or issues that you haven’t addressed yet that you would want to write about?
I don’t want to give too much away but I do want to explore the idea of distance – looking at Miami from a different perspective as opposed to someone that lives there now but has lived there for a meaningful amount of time and is now coming back. Because that’s something I can relate to a lot and I’d like to channel that in some way.
Growing up in Miami do you do a lot of research on the city? And if so are there any surprising bits of information you have discovered?
I do. I have to. While in the books you’ll notice there are places that don’t really exist anymore like the Gables Pub, Fox’s Lounge, etc. that’s more creative license than error. I figure if I’m writing the books, I might as well insert some of my favorite places. But yeah, I do try to keep my facts straight and visit the places I write about. A lot of my vacations end up becoming organic research trips for the books which is nice for me, at least maybe not for my wife [laughs]. Having grown up there I’ve got a great base of experience to work from but the city has changed so much in just the last ten years. I’d be doing a disservice to readers if I just worked from what I remember. I read a lot about the exile community and how they combated Castro’s regime, which I found supremely interesting – the idea that this government in exile was formed and actually battled the existing regime in every way except actual boots on the ground was engrossing and influenced the new book a lot even if it doesn’t show immediately.
Music plays a big part in your writing. You set mood and scenes with various musical roll calls. So who do you think Pete’s favorite band is? And more specifically his favorite local Miami band.
Pete strikes me as a Replacements fan. At least the acclaimed middle period. He also probably has a soft spot for the Velvets and Neko Case. As for Miami – I’m sure Pete’s been to his fair share of Corky [now known as The Getback – Ed.] shows during his earlier days.
I always ask this to all Miami-based folks. Share your craziest or favorite Churchill’s Pub memory.
My favorite and it ended up playing a part in a scene in Down the Darkest Street was hanging out in the back garden with the band Secret PE Club which consisted of my friends Andrea, Mindy and Emma. They were practicing for a gig or something and I was basically the only person in the audience. I even got to jam with them for a bit. I must have been 21? No idea. Anyway, that secluded back area is the setting for one of the more fun sequences of the book where you really learn about Pete’s friend Dave’s dark side and his connections to the Miami underworld.
Okay back to the books. Do you have an overall number of stories in mind? Do you have an ending for Pete in mind, happy or tragic?
I’m plugging away at the fourth which is tentatively titled Relics and have a strong idea for a fifth. After that, who knows? I can’t envision Pete saving Miami for 20 years but if the ideas keep coming up why say no?
Will Pete ever find a stable relationship? His history with love is a bit turbulent to say the least.
I’d like to think so but I feel like he needs to learn the toughest of lessons – you have to get your own shit together before you can expect anyone else to want to be with you.
Why do you think the “hard drinking” cynical yet good-hearted detective is such an enduring archetype?
Flawed heroes are compelling, especially those that are struggling to get better or live a better life. The white knight is unattainable but we can all aspire to be heroes even with our issues and addictions. When done well like Lawrence Block’s Scudder you feel like the character evolves and you’re on this redemptive journey. When it’s forced it just feels like a worn out trope. But I think there’s a lot of life in the idea of someone struggling to improve themselves while at the same time showcasing their skills to help others. It’s why I feel like crime fiction is such a vibrant medium – you can tell any kind of story. Just make sure there’s a dead body in there somewhere.
You’re also a prolific comics writer. Would you ever take Pete into other mediums, like comics, graphic novels, television or film?
I’d love to see Pete on the screen TV or film. There’s been some interest but I can’t really say much more than that. I think the stories would translate well with each book serving as a season of a show or a film. But those things are out of my control!
Dream cast/production for a Pete Fernandez TV show or film?
Do you watch Bloodline? I love that show and I think they capture the Keys and to a lesser degree Miami so, so well. Enrique Murciano, who plays Marco, Meg Rayburn’s ex and a cop gives off a great Pete vibe. But that’s just off the top of my head. I’d be happy with him in the role though for sure.
What’s next in line for Pete?
Without spoiling anything Dangerous Ends leaves Pete at a crossroads and his life literally depends on what he does. It puts him in a precarious spot. At the same time the entire journey has given him a lot of clarity and both of those things will inform his next adventure pretty heavily. I like to keep readers on their toes in terms of where we find Pete at the beginning of each book and this one will be no different.
You can follow Alex Segura on his Twitter and visit his website for more information. Pick up a copy of Dangerous Ends here.
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