Alex Segura on Bringing Pete Fernandez’s P.I. Journey to a Close in Miami Midnight
Alex Segura sits down with Dave Richards to discuss Miami Midnight, the fifth and possibly final book in Segura's Pete Fernandez P.I. series.
Most private detectives in crime fiction are established ones. So, it’s easy to think that their journey towards being a gumshoe was one of forward progression. Sometimes finding your calling is a messy business though where you take two steps forward and one step back. That’s certainly been the case for Alex Segura‘s Pete Fernandez. When readers first met the Miami-based private eye back in 2013’s Silent City he was still a newspaper reporter wrestling with alcoholism and struggling to find a purpose.
So readers got to go on a journey with Pete and watch him try to conquer his personal demons and the violent nature of a job he seems to have a knack for. We also got to see him come to terms with his family history. So, Pete’s voyage towards embracing his calling as a private eye has been a unique one full of setbacks and triumphs. That journey comes to an end this August in Segura’s final Pete Fernandez novel Miami Midnight.
I spoke with Segura about bringing Pete’s journey to a conclusion, how the climax of the previous novel, Blackout, impacts this one, and if Miami Midnight is indeed the final Pete Fernandez novel… or just the last one for now.
Dave Richards: Is Miami Midnight the definitive end to Pete’s adventures?
Alex Segura: I’m leaving it a little open. I don’t want to spoil anything, but by the end of the book, you realize that this is an ending. It may not be a definitive one, but I’m also not a big fan of band reunions. I don’t think it always works when you come back to something that you completed. So, ultimately I don’t know. I’ll leave the option open in case there’s more stories to tell. This is the end for now though.
I always wanted to tell a private eye’s origin story; to look at who they were and how they came to be in this role.
Dave: That’s not something you often see. Usually, the P.I. is established in the first book and you get hints of what they did before through interactions with other characters.
Alex: Yeah, and as a comics guy, I’m into origin stories. That’s such standard fare for comics. So, when I was getting into P.I. fiction I was a little confused. Why don’t we find out how Marlowe or Lou Archer started?
I think it’s a byproduct of the genre. A lot of these characters are episodic. If you shuffle the books you don’t really lose much. There’s not a lot of real subplots.
I was always much more interested in characters like [George Pelecanos’] Nick Stefanos, [Dennis Lehane’s] Pat Kenzie and Angie Genarro, and [Laura Lippman’s] Tess Monoghan. Those books featured a rolling narrative, but aside from Tess, you don’t really see their origin stories. So I wanted to show you a beginning.
That’s why I started with Pete’s first case. There are gaps between the books. I explored those in some novellas with other authors, but these five books are how Pete becomes this character. So that seemed like a natural breaking point and if I do come back to Pete it will be a whole different kind of series.
Dave: So, you always planned to have the Pete books be both episodic and one continuing story?
Alex: Yeah, it was a tightrope to walk. I wanted each book to feel like a standalone where you can hand it to someone, know they’ll read it, and be fine. I also wanted a payoff though for readers who had been around since the beginning.
So I really wanted a sense of momentum where we’re not only following the case, we’re also following Pete’s journey. That’s tricky, and I think you’ll notice in a lot of series that writers are kind of squeamish about spoilers. I don’t really have that. I’d rather just spoil the book, and if people are intrigued by books like Blackout they’ll want to know about things like Pete’s first case or the serial killer references. Readers are smart enough to go back and not just write things like that off because they’ve been spoiled.
Dave: Your previous novel Blackout ended with Pete having a brush with death and declaring his desire to live. So, when you pick back up with him in Miami Midnight he’s changed in a number of ways. What was it like writing Pete in this book?
Alex: It was different! That stuff changes you. He was flirting with not only sobriety but also with being a private eye. So, when he literally faces death it makes him reconsider his priorities, and he steps back. He becomes a little more cautious and he “retires.”
He’s decided he wants to live, but he’s not really living. So, I think the irony of the end of Blackout is he finally realizes he has all this good stuff in his life. He’s been kind of this morose guy who’s sober, but not sober. Then he realizes he has all this great stuff to live for and rushes to New York to get his belongings. Then he almost dies.
So, that was the twist. As he wants to live he dies. So, he’s bruised and battered, but he’s survived that. I think he’s a little frightened. That raised the question to me of, “What’s the one thing that will pull him out of this stasis.” That’s where the crux of the mystery comes in, and he feels compelled to step back into it. Along the way, he discovers, “I’m good at this, and I should be doing this.”
Dave: The thing that partly pulls him back into the P.I. game is the mystery surrounding his mother. And I noticed Pete’s family history is something that links your novels together. Did you have his family history mapped out?
Alex: That was something I had in my back pocket. Silent City was so much about Pete, his dad, and his alcoholism. So when I was writing it I was like, “What happened to his mom?” I remember thinking though, “I’m not ready to write that book yet.” There was something substantial there that I hadn’t figured out. So I put it in my back pocket and I knew I would get to it, but it was so deep in my back pocket that I almost forgot about it.
When I started working on this book it wasn’t about Pete’s mom. It was about jazz and Cuban gangsters. A lot of those elements are still there, but there was no connective tissue. I was looking for something to bring things together.
And I had explored his family in other books. You meet his grandfather in Dangerous Ends. In Blackout, you spend more time with Pete’s dad and get to know him a little better. Every book has this historical aspect. It’s about Pete’s present-day and how his past impacts it.
So, when I realized that this story had to be about Pete’s mom and she had to be an alcoholic too, that sealed it. The book is about Pete having this conversation with his mom, solving her murder, and becoming complete.
Dave: Miami Midnight doesn’t just connect to Pete’s family history, though. There are some ties to other books as well like your second novel, Down the Darkest Street.
Alex: Yes! I’m glad you picked up on that. That was challenging because in some ways Down the Darkest Street is kind of the Super Mario Bros. 2 of the series. [Laughs] Because it’s a little bit of an outlier. It’s a serial killer book and tonally, those are different. The other books dealt with more criminal enterprises like gangs and cults. Down the Darkest Street was about this one psychopath and what he was doing.
So I was proud that we weaved a connection to that novel in this one. It made this book feel like even more of a capstone. It all comes to this.
Dave: Earlier, you mentioned jazz. The way it’s featured in this book is a big change since modern/alternative rock played such a big role in previous novels. What made you want to bring Jazz into this series?
Alex: It just felt like a good fit. Crime and jazz kind of weave together so well, and really I was just into it at the moment. I was listening to a lot of it and reading a lot about it.
There are so many tragic figures in jazz. And even though we never meet the central pianist in this story, we do get a sense that he’s a super talented guy that just can’t get his shit together. He opened the door to bringing back another character from the series that I wasn’t really expecting to find. Then that character showed up.
Dave: Pete’s newfound love for jazz makes me want him to have a conversation about music with another crime fiction character who is also a jazz enthusiast, Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch.
Alex: Yeah! That would be cool. Bosch has much more experience with jazz, but maybe Pete can hand him a few Replacements records.
Dave: [Laughs] Another new element is that in Miami Midnight Pete is practicing a martial art.
Alex: Yeah, his brush with death made him want to figure out how to defend himself. That sent me down a research rabbit hole to find a kind of self-defense that syncs up with his idealism of not doing harm but still protecting yourself. So Aikido came into that.
I did some research and tried to work that into the story. I think it adds a new element to him and I think it makes him feel more of an actual P.I. and less of a guy who just seems to fall into things.
Dave: What’s it like saying goodbye to some of your supporting characters like Kathy, Dave, and Harras?
Alex: It was harder. I have a great affection for Kathy. I sometimes joke with people that I like her more than Pete. Because Pete can be very frustrating. He doesn’t do what you want him to do, and he can be very stubborn. You root for him, but he doesn’t always follow the formula of what the right thing to do is.
That’s frustrating and endearing for a reader, and it’s also that way for a writer too. Whereas Kathy is not just comic relief. She’s also much more competent than Pete in a lot of areas. She’s savvy, street smart, and knows who she is in a way that Pete doesn’t. I think that’s part of their attraction to each other. She’s confident and is who she is while he’s still sussing things out.
So I think they sync up pretty well and I’m going to miss their dynamic because I like writing them together. I also like writing her alone. I’ve had this idea in the back of my mind of doing a solo Kathy story somewhere, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.
Dave is fun because there’s so much more to him. When you first meet him in Down the Darkest Street he’s kind of this burly, obnoxious bookstore owner. Then you learn he’s got this very sordid history. He was involved in Miami drug crimes, and in Blackout, you learn his family was tied into something much more insidious and far-reaching. But at the end of the day, he’s still this jovial and funny guy. So, there’s more to him beyond the surface, and I like that.
Harras is sort of Pete’s mentor. They butt heads in Down the Darkest Street and then they slowly inch towards each other and by the beginning of Miami Midnight they’re not equals, but I feel like Harras has let him go. He’s basically said, “You can do this on your own. You don’t need me anymore.” So, he steps away a little bit, which is meaningful because Pete has progressed.
You mentioned Bosch, and in many ways, Harras is my little hat tip to Bosch because I think they would get along. He’s this surly guy that dares to break the rules but also sees some benefit in being part of the system.
Dave: Miami Midnight contains some Easter Egg style cameos. The first is two police officers who I’m guessing are meant to be nods to comic writers Greg Rucka and Geoff Johns.
Alex: Yes! I got a kick out of picturing Greg and Geoff in police blues. [Laughs]
Dave: The second is a private eye from Los Angeles that shows up to deliver something to Pete. Was that scene a crossover with another private eye series?
Alex: Yes, you read the galley but in the final copy there’s a hat-tip to Steph Cha‘s Juniper Song series as well. And yes, the P.I.that shows up at one point is Dayna from Kellye Garrett‘s cozy series. I love that series, and Kellye’s a friend. I reached out to her and said, “I have this character who shows up for a minute, and is literally just delivering documents. Do you mind if it’s your character?” She was into and we talked back and forth about the dialogue.
I like to do that. I’ve done some more extensive crossovers like Pete and Rob Hart‘s Ash and Pete and Dave White‘s Jackson Donne. I love doing these one-offs too. I think there’s one or two in each book.
I’m really proud of these books and I’ve been so amazed at the response. To see Blackout nominated for an Anthony alongside the people I read before I got into this like Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, and Lou Berney is mind-blowing. I did a search for “best Florida crime novels” for a piece I was writing. I wanted to see who else had written about the state, and I stumbled across a few lists that mentioned Silent City and the other Pete books. So, it feels really good to see them become part of the lexicon. The fact that Pete can be mentioned alongside books and characters that I followed as a fan is really inspiring.
I think we left him in an interesting place, and the door is open for more at some point, but I’m really happy with these five books. They tell a good story about the evolution of a guy who goes from a total washout to contributing to society. So, it’s a personal story as much as it’s a big, shoot-em-up, murder story.
Dave: Finally, now that Pete’s story is at least temporarily wrapped up what sort of projects are you working on that fans of his adventures might be interested in?
Alex: I’m working on my first standalone novel. I don’t want to say too much about it because it’s still coming to life, but it is a murder mystery set in a different time period. There’s definitely a Miami element, but it’s a different protagonist. I think if you’re a Pete fan it will definitely appeal to your sensibilities.