In writer Alex Segura’s mystery novels, Miami is as much a character as his anti-hero Pete Fernandez, a washed-out Cuban-American private investigator.
That places the Magic City with all its glitter and sun and carefree attitudes smack dab in the middle of the broody story lines of Segura’s noir novels.
“I like that South Florida offers this amazing contrast where, for its bright, sunny, tropical surface, there is the reality of a criminal undercurrent,” Segura said by telephone hours before the May 8 release of his fourth book, "Blackout."
“Miami is a sprawling city that is complicated racially and socially, and the contrast between light and darkness makes for a great setting.”
Now living in Queens, N.Y., with his lawyer wife and their young son, 38-year-old Segura is a product of the same sprawl that inspired him.
A Cuban American like his main character, Segura graduated from Southwest Miami Senior High School in 1998 before heading to Florida International University. He briefly worked for the Miami Herald, first as a designer, then an online editor.
In time, Segura moved to New York in the mid-2000s to work for D.C. Comics, mostly in marketing. Over the years, he wrote a few comic books and still toils in the industry as co-president of Archie Comics.
An avid reader of mystery novels, Segura started writing long-form in his spare time in late 2009, and by 2013, the first of four tomes in the Pete Fernandez series – "Silent City" – hit bookshelves.
He says his goal was to create a private investigator who wasn’t yet established, a character that fit in the genre but continues to evolve.
“I wanted a younger character than the average noir PI,” Segura says. “One who’d be changing with the stories. How did he become a PI? How does he evolve in his recovery from alcoholism?”
While Segura can’t let go of his day job just yet, he has managed to sneak into the middle of the crowded mystery books business with plots that run on two tracks. One track highlights a long-buried real-life Miami mystery; the other track delves into the unpredictable evolution of his self-destructing Pete Fernandez.
For "Blackout" and its storyline about a long-lost cult, Segura researched the Liberty City cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh, a group that claimed God and the prophets were black, and that whites, especially Jews, the true infidels.
Some local politicians legitimized the group through the 1980s by sucking up to ben Yahweh. In 1991, however, the leader, whose real name was Hulon Mitchell Jr., was convicted of conspiring to kill white people as an initiation rite into the cult, and ordering the decapitation of wayward followers.
“I did some deep dives on lost cults,” says Segura. “I wrote what I imagined would happen if Yahweh ben Yahweh came back now, 20 years later.”
Segura is scheduled to discuss his new tome at Book & Books May 23 in Coral Gables, and at Murder on The Beach May 24 in Delray Beach.