Why Alex Segura made Miami the setting for his hit crime fiction series

Miami has no shortage of the bizarre, seedy, and dark – which is why Miami-born writer Alex Segura thought it would be the perfect setting for his noir crime fiction series about Pete Fernandez, a struggling journalist who wanders back to his hometown of Miami and into a career as a private investigator.

Alex, the author, grew up in the 305 and previously worked for the Miami Herald before moving up to New York City a few years ago, where he dived into the Pete Fernandez series, which has been a hit.

It’s been optioned for a TV series and the third book, “Dangerous Ends,” was just nominated for an Anthony Award, a reader’s choice award given out at Boucher Con (basically the biggest fan and reader event in the mystery book industry). Alex just released his fourth book, “Blackout,” and his book tour is stopping off in Miami this week (details on that toward the end), so we chatted him up on the role Miami plays in the series.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Who is Pete Fernandez?

We meet Pete Fernandez in the first book as a struggling journalist who just moved back to Miami from New Jersey, where he was an up and coming sports journalist.

His fiancé has left him, his dad has died, he’s a copy editor at a Miami daily newspaper. He’s basically hit bottom, he’s drinking heavily. He gets involved in an investigation searching for a missing woman, the daughter of a colleague of his at the paper… The killer is the killer of killers, a Miami urban legend, the guy the gangs hire to kill other gangsters.

[Getting involved in that case] sends him on a path of self discovery. Each book is a different case that ties into Miami history and his father’s history [his father was a Miami homicide detective].

Why did you choose Miami as the setting?

I feel like the New York crime novel has been done so well and by so many people. At that point I also didn’t feel like I was ready to write a New York crime novel. More primally, I was homesick… I really wanted to reconnect with Miami.

Miami is a great setting for noir – it’s a tropical paradise with a beautiful landscape, and then you have this undercurrent of crime and element of danger. The best part of noir is having that contrast.

Who and what will Miamians recognize in the book?

In the new book there’s a really key scene at Vizcaya. It’s probably a turning point for the book. Plus, there’s a lot of little hat tips. Pete walks through Coral Gables, he spends time in Broward, he goes to the Keys. In the early books he lives Downtown. The Miami Times [the fictional newspaper Pete worked for] is basically where the old Herald building was downtown. He’s really all over the place. He goes to a lot of restaurants and landmarks readers will recognize.

It’s very much a Miami series, but it’s not just the tourist spots. Residents will say, “I know that place.” For example, Gables Pub is a place my friends in college would go to a lot that no longer exists [that Pete visits].

What will surprise us?

It’s very different from what you see in the movies and on TV. He doesn’t spend a lot of time on SoBe… I think that’s part of the charm. He’s a resident, he embraces the day to day of Miami.

What’s next for Pete?

There’s at least one more book – I’m actively working on the fifth.  I always joke that whatever one I’m working on is the last one. At a certain point in the writing, I joke that I’m going to kill Pete and be done with it. Then, toward the end, I always decide to keep him around.

The series is really a love letter to Miami in many ways. The Miami that you read about it in the first book and the Miami you see in the current book is different because so much has changed, the landscape has changed, the community has changed.

Want to learn more about Alex and Pete? Alex will be speaking about the Blackout, the latest book in the Pete Fernandez series, at Books and Books this Wednesday. Deets here.