Like I mentioned earlier, I have been on some acknowledgement pages, and felt it would be a little conflict-of-interest to review those books here. One of those novels was Alex Segura’s “Silent City,” the first in the Pete Fernandez series.That book introduced us to Pete Fernandez, a conflicted character trying to reconcile his drinking problems, his complicated love life, and his go-nowhere newspaper job with his investigation of a deadly killer. I’m not in the acknowledgments to the second book in the series, (although I do believe I caught a shout out) so I can happily review it. “Down the Darkest Street” takes the elements of the hard-boiled novel, drops them in Miami, and makes sure everything is in place to satisfy genre fans. We find Pete in a relatively good place after “Silent City.” Even though best friend is dead, he’s dealing with his binge-drinking and putting in AA time. His ex-girlfriend Emily is moving in with him while her own marriage is in shambles, (although that brings its own set of complications, including a jealous husband.) His friend Kathy is there to keep Pete on check with the requisite banter. New addition Dave, (a gun-toting book store owner) provides comedy relief. Naturally, there’s a missing girl and Pete must go back into investigations once again, while the bodies pile up.
As a character, Pete does not necessarily seem like the kind of tough, endlessly resourceful guy who populates the genre, but more like a commonly flawed guy driven forward by unusual circumstances and journalistic curiosity. The mystery itself could do with some distinctive spice, though: we’ve seen shadowy serial killers and women-in-danger scenarios aplenty, even in this still nascent series. Of course it’s hard to re-invent that particular procedural wheel, and most thriller writers simply add fancy rims: “Serial killer has an interest in collecting caterpillars! Women-in-danger are kept inside elaborate papier mache butterfly cocoons!” etc etc.)* Segura doesn’t go that route: his mystery is sketchily detailed and even though we have chapters from the killer’s POV, the novel withdraws from the truly gritty descriptive details, (this might be a plus for more sensitive readers.)
Ultimately, what makes the Pete Fernandez series so enjoyable for me is that it offers a sense of place. When Pete walks, well, “down a dark street,” it will be a dark street Miamians of my generation will recognize; the restaurants he walks by are still functional and accept reservations; the bars that tempt him are open (’til closing time). I particularly enjoyed Pete’s side trip to my architecturally impressive high school, so there’s my bias. Let’s see what alley he stumbles into next round, and whether I recognize the street sign on it.
*(“Memo to Self: Idea for Thomas- Harris-like thriller: The Caterpillar Killer + Cocoon Murders! It can be called “MURDERFLY”! Ooooh, and maybe the end scene takes place during a bizarre, Grand-Guignol performance of “Madame Butterfly”! Best-Sellah!”)