For people (like me) who knew Alex Segura as the publicist for DC Comics, his move into writing them came as no surprise. But for fans of Alex’s comics, his move into writing hard boiled crime fiction with 2016’s Silent City was probably a curious one. Especially given that two of his better-known comics were Archie Meets Kiss and Archie Meets The Ramones, and there neither rock stars nor Archies in what became the first book of his Pete Fernandez Mystery series. But what seems to have surprised Alex about this process — as he revealed when discussing the third novel in this series, Dangerous Ends (hardcover, digital) — is how (if I may be so Godfather III about it) every time he thinks he’s out, Pete pulls him back in.
To begin, what is Dangerous Ends about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, with the previous novel, Down The Darkest Street?
Dangerous Ends is the third Pete Fernandez Mystery, and is set about a year after the traumatic events of Down The Darkest Street, which found Pete and his partner, Kathy Bentley, tracking down a deadly serial killer who was mimicking the methods of a long-dead murderer.
In the opening chapters of Dangerous Ends, we find that Pete has finally settled into the role of private eye, and has accepted the sometimes mundane nature of the job. He’s trying to get his life together, and has started working as a P.I. full-time. At the same moment, Kathy has landed a huge opportunity: the chance to reinvestigate the Gaspar Varela case. Varela is a former Miami Narcotics officer serving life in prison for the vicious murder of his wife. Varela’s daughter Maya hires Pete and Kathy in the hopes that they might find a sliver of evidence to help get her dad a new trial and, just maybe, exonerate him. It’s become a very controversial and talked-about Miami true crime case over the last decade, and the city is divided in how they see it. But as soon as Pete and Kathy take the case, they find themselves in the crosshairs of Los Enfermos, a deadly, sprawling gang of drug dealers with ties to Cuba’s Castro regime. As Pete ducks and dodges to stay alive, he discovers that the gang might have ties to a bigger unsolved case from Pete’s own past: the death of his grandfather, Diego Fernandez. The story flashes back to the early days of Castro’s regime, and pushes Pete’s story forward at the same time, with both threads crashing together at the end.
Where did you get the idea for Dangerous Ends, and how different is the finished novel from that original idea?
Well, I’ve always wanted to write about the Cuba-Miami relationship, and show the perspective of someone who has lived in Miami with Cuban parents, which I think is a very different point of view from the rest of the country. At the same time, I knew I had to tell a compelling mystery, and I was really intrigued by the “amateur sleuth” phenomenon that seemed to overtake everyone with Serial and Making A Murderer, to name a few. I wondered what it’d be like to have Pete handle that kind of contentious, controversial case. I was partially inspired by the Jeffrey MacDonald murders, which happened in 1970, and featured a green beret murdering his entire family, but blaming it on Manson-like hippies. To this day, the case is much-debated, even though MacDonald is serving time in prison with little chance of parole. Those were the big threads when I started, but as I wrote it, I realized I needed to jump back in time and show Pete’s backstory and where his family was from, which made for a much more intense and personal story that becomes more widescreen and generational.
As with any literary genre, crime fiction has many sub genres. Are there any in particular, or combination of them, that you feel best fits Dangerous Ends and the other books in the Pete Fernandez Mystery series?
I’m not a fan of over-categorizing fiction, but I’d probably call the Pete books hardboiled P.I. novels, with a dash of noir and mystery.
Crime novels also have their own cliches and predilections. In writing Dangerous Ends, were there any that you consciously avoided?
I try to avoid the established P.I. Or the evergreen story. To me, each installment in the series has to push Pete forward and leave him in a different spot from the first page. I want him to evolve and learn and move forward. If it’s just the case of the week, I’m less interested, though there are many authors who can do that well.
Writers typically hate being asked about their influences, but I am curious about this: Is there any writer or specific book that you see as being a big influence on Dangerous Ends that did not have as much of an impact on the previous books?
I was definitely in a James Ellroy state of mind while writing this book, and while my style is very different from Ellroy’s, his ability to hop around from points of view and to tell a bigger, more complicated story was definitely something I thought about a lot.
Dangerous Ends is the third Pete Fernandez Mystery you’ve written, if we don’t count the prequel Bad Beat that you co-wrote with Rob Hart. Is Dangerous Ends the end of a trilogy, the third in a series of five or seven or whatever, or just the next book in an ongoing series?
I’ve mapped out the next three books, so, if the stars align, we’ll have three more Pete books to discuss.
When did you decide to make the Pete Fernandez Mystery novels an ongoing series, and what led to this decision?
It changes from book to book. I didn’t realize I was going to write a sequel until I was close to finishing Silent City. When I was done with Down The Darkest Street, I thought I’d do one more and be done with it. But as I completed Dangerous Ends, I realized I had a few more stories to tell with Pete.
On the flipside of that, does someone need to have read the other books before tackling Dangerous Ends, or is it a stand-alone novel?
Well, it’s the third in the series, so I think you get something out of reading them all together. But I do try very hard to make each book stand on its own. The recaps are layered in an organic way so if you just pick up book 2 or 3, you’re not completely in the dark. As a reader, though, I prefer to start from the first book.
In writing Dangerous Ends, did you ever write something and then realize you couldn’t include it because it contradicted with something you did in one of the earlier novels?
I revise pretty heavily, and a lot of that process includes going back and revisiting the first two books to make sure the continuity lines up. While I’m not an ultra-detailed outliner, I do make notes as I write to make sure I go back and check things, like the status of a character at the end of one book leading into another. The revision process is integral to all books, I think, especially to series that feature recurring characters and situations.
Now, I first met you when you were doing PR for DC Comics. You later went on to write comics, including Archie Meets Kiss and Archie Meets The Ramones. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but why did you decide to write the Pete Fernandez Mystery novels as prose instead of as a comic?
They’re completely different animals to me. I love writing comics and playing in existing sandboxes with properties like Archie, but the Pete stories are very personal and I wanted to exert as much control as I could, so prose struck me as the best way. Also, it was such an initially intense change of pace and tapped into my growing love for crime fiction that I couldn’t have done it any other way.
Did you ever consider writing these stories as comics?
Sure. I think so. I write pretty visually. It’s just a matter of finding the time without detracting from the core stories.
So has there been any interest in adapting Dangerous Ends — or, indeed, any of the Pete Fernandez Mystery novels — into a movie, TV show, or video game?
There’s been interest, but nothing I can say beyond that. I think they’d work well as a cable TV series or series of movies, for sure. I’d start with the beginning and go from there, but maybe I’m just being selfish.
If Dangerous Ends was to be adapted, who would you like them to cast in the main roles and why them?
If you can find a Cuban Casey Affleck, then we’re set. If not, I’d pick Enrique Murciano, who plays a cop on the first two seasons of Netflix’s Bloodline.
Finally, if someone enjoys Dangerous Ends, and they’ve already read Silent City, Down The Darkest Street, and Bad Beat, what would you recommend they read next and why?
Well, I’ve got another crossover short story, Shallow Grave, co-written with fellow crime writer Dave White. It features Pete meeting White’s series character, Jackson Donne, and it’s set between Down The Darkest Street and Dangerous Ends.