Alex Segura may live in New York City now, but his passion resides in Miami — just not the Miami most of us know. Segura works by day as the Senior Vice President of Publicity and Marketing for Archie Comics and as the editor of its new Dark Circle line, which this month launches a gritty new incarnation of a classic Archie hero with The Black Hood. After hours, Segura is himself a crime novelist, weaving mysteries with an eye toward Miami noir.
Segura’s Miami crime novel series kicked off with Silent City in 2013, and his second novel, Down the Darkest Street is due out in late 2015 or early 2016. The series follows Pete Fernandez, a hometown antihero with a dead-end journalism job, some bad habits, and a nose for trouble. We sat down with Alex to discuss his inspiration for writing crime novels in Miami and to tap into his favorite reads for those seeking a shadier side of our sunny city.
Why did you set your novels in Miami?
I really got into crime movies as a kid, and I remember watching Scarface as a kid and thinking thats not Miami. It kind of stuck in my craw. It just made sense that when I would write, I would set it there.
Everybody who’s not from Miami has this sort of Miami Vice or Dexter idea of what Miami is when it comes to crime. There is that neon, bright lights topping to Miami, but there’s also a lot of underground to play with. There’s a lot of culture-clashing in Miami, and I think that tension is good for crime. I had only read one or two really good Miami noir books over the years, like Vicki Hendricks’s book Miami Purity, and I just thought there was more to tell.
Realistically, I didn’t think I was ready to write my first book about any place else either. When I started writing the first Pete book, I had just moved to New York and I was a little homesick. In some ways, creating this very Miami character and putting him in all the places I knew from home was a way to keep that connection. I felt a lot of loyalty to show the Miami I knew.
I love the way Dennis Lehane writes about Boston, and George Pelecanos writes about D.C., and Laura Lippman writes about Baltimore. All of those authors were big influences, because they write about these characters and the city is a big part of them. I want my books to have that sense of place. Pete grew up as this suburban kid in Miami, like I did, and I didn’t really see that in a lot of other Miami stuff. I want people to get a sense that Miami is really more of a big, sprawling county than just the beach or a city like New York or D.C. So, in Silent City, there’s the beach, but there’s also Coral Gables, and Kendall and even a little bit of Fort Lauderdale and the Keys in there. When you live in Miami, you’re sort of spread out like that.
Miami has a lot of crime, was that an inspiration for you?
Yeah, there’s always something weird happening in the news. I think there’s a sense that that stuff can only happen in Florida, but more specifically in Miami. There’s also this theme of redemption in a lot of Miami stories, though. People want see you fall from grace, but in Miami, you’re always wanting to see a big comeback too.
Does anything in particular stick out to you about Miami noir from living here?
Oh, I must have seen Cocaine Cowboys about 13 times. I grew up in that, and I just had no idea as a kid that it was going on. We grew up thinking the bars on the windows were normal, and I remember people’s parents would be in jail or whatever. It was just part of life.
The Art Teele story really sticks out to me because I worked at The Herald at the time. I was off that day, and I remember watching it on T.V., thinking “Wow, that’s where I go to work every day.”
That was such a sordid and weird and just sad story. Here’s this guy who was committing this huge fraud, but on the other hand, he did a lot of good for a lot of people and was a great community leader. There seems to be a lot of that sort of thing in Miami, like there’s always some bigger conspiracy happening behind the scenes.
Any book recommendations for other Miami noir fans?
Miami Purity by Vicki Hendricks: “Eye-opening. A sexy, dangerous and very Miami piece of noir. The most influential Miami crime novel I’ve ever read. No frills, no fluff, and all danger, Miami Purity tells the tale of ex-stripper Sherry Parlay, now working at Miami Purity, a local laundromat – looking for a fresh start after a string of bad turns. Sherry soon finds herself in the cross-hairs of her new lover and his overbearing mom. A dark, emotional and seedy little book that will haunt you long after you’ve finished it.”
Under Cover of Daylight by James W. Hall: “The first of 13 Thorn novels by Hall doesn’t take place in Miami, but you instantly feel how important the South Florida location plays into this haunting book. An addictive read that ensures you’ll be locked in for the next 12.”
The Deep Blue Good–by by John D. MacDonald: “A sunburnt Sherlock Holmes, Travis McGee stars in 21 novels from MacDonald, mostly kicking off on his boat, the Busted Flush, moored in Fort Lauderdale. McGee’s the noir forefather to many future adventurers, including Pete Fernandez.”
Rum Punch by Elmore Leonard: “The inspiration for Tarantino’s Jackie Brown stars stewardess Jackie Burke – who flies out of Palm Beach International Airport instead of LA. Leonard is on his game, creating vivid characters, shady dealings and double-crosses aplenty. If you dig this, also check out Out of Sight, which features its own SoFla connection.”
Florida Pulp Nonfiction by Bob Norman: “Described as ‘the book the tourist board doesn’t want you to see’ – this one has it all, and each tale is surprisingly true. From twisted bureaucrats to death row to the dirt hiding under the glitz and glamour of South Beach, Norman peels back the pop culture veneer of Miami and Florida to show readers a city constantly in transition, and the people that get stuck between the gears.”