Interview with Alex Segura

In Blackout, Alex Segura’s latest book to feature Pete Fernandez has the PI operating in New York, but brought back to his Miami home to find the missing son of a business man politician, mainly because he resembles a young man who went missing when he was last seen with Pete’s high school crush before she was murdered. Alex will be joining us for a discussion and signing of Blackout on May 18th, but we got in touch with him ahead of time for an early grilling.
MP: Blackout has a great hook of a premise with Pete hired to track down a missing person who is tied to a murder of an old crush. It gives you both a promise in plot and emotion. How did the initial idea come about?
AS: That’s a good question – I really want the mystery to harken back to not only Pete’s drinking days, but his youth – to give readers a longer glimpse at him in his formative years. In past books, we’ve explored cases that had some roots in the past, either cases Pete’s homicide detective father didn’t get to resolve or stuff that dates further back, but I wanted this book to completely center on Pete, and to really impact him emotionally. I wanted it to be the case that always haunted him. Growing up in Miami, there were a handful of crimes that just felt ever-present – missing students or kids, constantly being discussed on the news, missing for years, so those two ideas came together, and I made the victim someone that Pete knew and felt an emotional connection with. I also wanted to give him the added baggage of having failed at it once – when he was a mess, drinking heavily and of no use to anyone. So he felt like he’d already struck out twice trying to solve this case. So, when a chance to fix that arises, he jumps in fully, despite the risks involved in returning home, and the damaged relationships he’d have to repair. It’s the crux of the entire book – can you come to terms with your past in order to live out your future?MP: The mystery of Blackout forces Pete to deal with the past, something he has been trying to avoid. What did you want to explore with that idea?

AS: I’ve always liked the idea of telling a story about recovery, as opposed to just spotlighting a hard drinking PI. I wanted to show the steps and stumbles he takes toward getting better. When we find Pete at the beginning of Blackout, he’s not desperate for a drink – in fact, he seems to be in good standing with AA and living a pretty functional life. But that’s on the surface. He hasn’t really dug back into his past and cleared the wreckage. He’s still haunted, and that’s driven a wedge between him and his friends – like his partner, Kathy Bentley, and other supporting characters. So, to answer your question, I wanted to show that Pete’s journey is an ongoing one – he’ll never be completely fixed. No one is. But this book is a big step for him because he’s given an opportunity to make something right, and that, in turn, might allow him to move on, to not be clouded by this guilt and shame, and to maybe embrace being alive. Unfortunately, he has some obstacles to overcome before that can happen – like a deadly cult with its sights set on Pete for meddling in their affairs.

MP:  Usually with modern PI novels the author usually goes an action route that sacrifices emotion and character or a character approach that remains mainly internal. In Blackout you strike a perfect balance of both. How aware of the balancing act are you when writing?AS: Thanks for saying that. It is something I try to be mindful of. For me, it all springs out of character – where do we meet them and where are they at the end of the book? That helps define the journey of the novel. I knew I wanted Pete to reach a turning point at the end of the book that would forever change him and his status quo, so it became a matter of crafting action that pushes him down that path. From my perspective, Blackout is pretty intense – there are few slow scenes, but I try to coat those moments with some emotion and introspection. You get a sense of how these intense scenarios are affecting Pete and Kathy. I never want it to feel clean or without consequence. I like the Pete books when they wallow in the gray areas of life, which feels more real to me – complicated, conflicting, messy. That’s where you get the most genuine stuff.


MP: You’ve mentioned one of my favorite private eye authors, Ross Macdonald, in some of your other interviews. Is there anything from reading his work, you’ve applied to yours?
 

AS: I love Macdonald, so I’m glad you bring him up. I revisited all the Lew Archer books before writing Blackout. And while it wasn’t intentional research, I felt like a lot of that managed to sneak into the writing of the new book. He was a superb plotter, which, to contrast a bit, wasn’t Chandler’s strong suit. And while Lew Archer is unlike Pete in that he doesn’t really experience major, seismic changes from book to book, when you zoom out on the series, you do notice some things, especially when Macdonald plays with themes like the humanity of evil, the environment, or what have you. Those books helped me drill deep and create more compelling “bad guys.” The best villains don’t think they’re villains at all.And, like I said, the Archer books are so tightly plotted. That aspect is often ignored because Macdonald was such a great wordsmith – you can very easily get lost in his language and descriptions. But the books always move at a good clip. Nothing ever feels wasted or like filler. That must have subconsciously nudged me in that direction with Blackout.

MP:  As someone who has friends that have dealt both successfully and unsuccessfully with alcoholism, I thought you portrayed that aspect of Pete in a realistic way. What do you keep in mind about that part of him when you’re writing the books?

AS: I try to be honest. Recovery isn’t a linear process, and it doesn’t stick with everyone. I think a lot of people just assume that once you get into AA or some kind of rehab, you’re okay. It’s silly to type that, but I’ve met people who think it’s like going to a doctor. It’s not. It’s a journey fraught with pitfalls and detours and, for many, relapse. So, I wanted to showcase Pete’s quest to get better with that in mind. Just because he’s not drinking doesn’t mean he’s not thinking about it, or thinking about his past as a drinker. He’s a haunted character, and that applies to many people who deal with addiction. It’s a lifelong struggle.

MP:  You’ve more or less stated that your putting Pete to rest at least for a while after the next book. Do you already have other stories or another series character in mind?

AS: I have at least one more Pete novel in me, which I’m starting on now – Miami Midnight. I’m having fun with that and might find myself at the end wanting another Pete. But as I see things now, I think I’ll at least give him a break. I don’t know if I’ll dive into another series just yet, though I do have an idea for a character. The two strongest ideas sound like standalone to me, though, and touch on subjects I haven’t gotten to explore with Pete.

Review Of Blackout by Alex Segura

Alex Segura has slowly made a name for himself with his Pete Fernandez series. The sports writer turned private detective, who battles his inner demons and the bottle as much as the bad guys, is steadily grabbing fans. I’ve been reading to the series for the past couple of years and his visit to BookPeople on May 16th gave me the opportunity to read his latest, Blackout. He now has a new fan.
Blackout finds Pete with an office in New York, staying away from him Miami home and the past. A client comes in, drops it on his desk anyhow. A businessman running for Florida senate wants him to find his missing ne’er do well son. Pete refuses until he sees a photo of the missing person. He resembles a young man who was seen with Pete’s high school crush before she was murdered. Pete heads back down to Florida and with the help of his former partner Kathy Bently get involved in a mystery dealing with a cult, the mob, and old wounds.
What impressed me about Blackout was how as a first time reader of the series, I understood Joe and his world so thoroughly. I knew him as well as Lew Archer, Sheriff Walt Longmire, Moe Prager, or any of the other fictional slueth I’ve read more than a dozen books of. Segura gives us enough history from the previous books and gives us Pete’s connection and emotional point of view to them, showing how they connect to is current actions. He also defines him through his interactions with other series characters, who come off both believable and caring.
Segura balances action and emotion in Blackout like a master craftsman. He carries the reader along with an engaging plot and likable if damaged hero. You root for Pete both to save the day and save himself. I’m looking forward to reading his next case as well as the one before.

Murder in the Afternoon Book Club Celebrates Texas Mystery Writers Month!

Our Murder In The Afternoon book club celebrates Texas Mystery Writers Month with a detective tale with tons of Lone Star flavor. The Do-Right by Lisa Sandlin is a wonderful mystery novel with layers of intrigue and characters who can only be found in Texas. As part of our discussion, Lisa will be joining in, via conference call.
The Do-Right has two protagonists both in the middle of a life change in Beaumont Texas during the early Seventies. Delpha Wade, on parole after getting out of prison for killing one of her rapists, needs to find a job. Her parole officer sets her up as a secretary for his buddy Tom Phelan. Tom lost a part of his finger on an oil rig, With his workman’s comp, he started a private eye firm. Delpha proves to be Tom’s match as they each take separate cases that entwine.
The Do-Right gives us a lot to talk about, Texas in the Seventies, the Watergate Hearings used in the backdrop, role reversal in detective fiction, and you’ll get to ask the author herself. We will be meeting Monday, May 21st at 7PM. The book is 10% off for those planning to attend.
For June we will be celebrating World Fiction Month with the second book in Jean Clad Izzo’s Mareille trilogy, Chourmo.  

DRUGS, DRONES, & DEATH: A GUEST ARTICLE BY HUNTER’S MOON AUTHOR BILLY KRING

When Hunter Kincaid and her partner, Gary follow the tracks of a single male for miles through the desert, they don’t expect to find the man lying face down with bullet holes in his back and head, and all fired from close range, especially when there are no other tracks, except his for as far as they can see.

They call the Sheriff’s Department and the Sheriff himself responds, along with two high profile passengers: multi-millionaire and former Marine and ex-CIA agent-and current presidential advisor Lincoln Jones, and his second–in-command, Ashton Dean. Jones and Kincaid’s personalities clash, until Hunter hears that the dead man at their feet is Jones’ stepson, Cory. Cory is also a CIA Agent, and was working in Mexico as he and his partner, Art Gonzales, hunt through the unfamiliar terrain and towns to locate a drug ring that uses drones to transport and drop drug loads across the U.S. border. Neither was familiar with the Cartel’s new players or the two-thousand square mile area around Ojinaga, Mexico, and the Big Bend. Art is positive this led to Cory’s murder. Hunter also meets three delightful teen boys she sees flying small drones and they teach her how to fly one, as well as educating her on how many types there are.

The climax to this adventure occurs on the banks of the Rio Grande, where Hunter’s new skill flying drones pays off, while unexpected betrayals bring all parties together for a final confrontation.

 Drones play a vital part in this novel, and the ones mentioned are all real, with some still not released by DARPA(the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), like the TERN(Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node), which can take off like a helicopter and land like a plane.

Drones today are continually being modified at a fever pace, much like personal computers were in the eighties. New ones or new variations seem to appear every week, and many are made by individuals—for a myriad of purposes, both ethical and unethical. Cartels are using them, although the use is selective, not widespread as of yet (still more economical most of the time to smuggle things using the old tried and true methods).

Here’s a video of near-future drone capability (it’s also a sales pitch by the company, but is entertaining–and disturbing–to watch) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TlO2gcs1YvM

The use of sarin gas, made from castor beans, was a favorite of the Japanese terrorist group, Aum Shinrikyo. On March 20, 1995, they unleashed a sarin attack on the Tokyo subway, which partially failed, but even with limited success the attack still killed thirteen and injured five thousand, totally overwhelming the Tokyo first responders and hospitals to the point of incapacity. Today, twenty-three years later, a number of victims continue to suffer physical or mental after-effects of the sarin attack, experiencing complications such as impaired speech, blurred vision and post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of the unlucky ones are still confined to their beds. There are still over one thousand members of this terrorist group at large, and most are using assumed names and living in Europe.

Other toxic gas such as chlorine can also be used this way. In my Hunter Kincaid novel, The Empty Land, I describe a chlorine attack, and it is based on first-hand reports of actual chlorine-related attacks and accidents. Very nasty stuff, and easily obtained.

SHOTGUN BLAST FROM THE PAST- CLIFTON ADAMS NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER

Clifton Adams is one of those genre authors that deserves more of a reputation. Mainly known for his westerns (Desperado, Noose For A Desperado), he wrote a handful of crime novels not too long after World War Two. A great example of his crime work is never Say No To A Killer, recently republished by Stark House on their Black Gat line.
The main character, Roy Suratt, is far from what you’d call a hero. We meet him, executing a prison break, killing a guard in the process. He plans to meet his old cell mate, John Vanci, on the outside. John will pay him and help him disappear if he does a certain job. Instead, he finds Dorris, John’s widow.
The Vanci’s ran a successful  black mail operation in their town, until they crossed the wrong mark. John wanted Roy to take the man out before he and Dorris were murdered. Dorris says she’ll honor their deal. Roy agrees to do the hit only if he becomes her partner in the business.
The book delivers several twists and turns. As in noir tradition, few of them are good for Roy. You know that his greed and lust will doom him, it is simply by what means, a mark, a rival, the law, or the love triangle he develops with Dorris and one of the mark’s wives. You don’t really root for Roy to survive. The suspense lies in how far he will go.

Adams tells this tale in the style of a bad man’s nightmare. It is rich and tightly plotted with a mood as black as a moonless night. Never Say No To A Killer  stands as proof that Clifton Adams was a master story teller, no matter what story he was telling.