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Down the Darkest Street: A Pete Fernandez Mystery


Down the Darkest Street: A Pete Fernandez Mystery

Hardcore mystery fans like me will immediately link the title of this book to a famous quote: “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” Those words from Raymond Chandler defined the hard-boiled protagonist of the post-World War II mystery novel. The antiheroes of Chandler and Dashiell Hammett populated the revolutionary genre of film noir.

Alex Segura, author of the bestselling Archie comics, is a talented novelist and comic book writer. There is no proof that the Chandler quote influenced his title, but he has done something significant here. He has created the next great hard-boiled protagonist in Pete Fernandez, who appeared in his debut novel from 2013, SILENT CITY, now reissued by Polis Books. This is a series that mystery fans will want to follow.

Like the earlier masters, Segura has made a city almost a character in his books. All great writers do. Chandler had LA, while Hammett took San Francisco. When you think Lawrence Block’s Scudder, you are on the really mean streets of New York in the bad old days. Likewise, Dennis Lehane takes us to Boston and George Pelecanos to the deadly streets of the nation’s capital, Washington, DC.

"DOWN THE DARKEST STREET marks the emergence not just of the next great crime fiction series, but of a writer on the rise."

Segura, who was born in Miami but now lives in New York, has this to say about his native town: “It had been another Miami scorcher. One of those days you do not want to consider leaving the house, or wearing pants. Where you get sunburned taking out the garbage. Where your shirt sticks to your slick body before you even get to your car…. The rare tropical breeze a teasing gift --- a sweet whisper in your ear. Miami. Even the brightest sun and neon lights couldn’t change it. The place was f****d. Dirty. Corrupt. A nightmare waiting to happen in broad daylight.”

So much for the job writing for the tourism bureau. Into this damaged city comes the ultimately damaged protagonist, Pete Fernandez, a newspaper reporter in New Jersey before getting a job on a paper in Miami. He lost that job in SILENT CITY, thus joining the ranks of the dispossessed journalists of America. In 2007, there were 55,000 full-time journalists in the US; in 2015, 32,900. You do not hear much about the dispossessed because those still with jobs are so terrified of losing them, they would rather not think about the Death of Journalism in America.

It is real, though, as I personally can attest, having lost a career I loved and worked hard on for over two decades. Big Deal. But it can have a disastrous personal impact, as it did for the millions of American factory workers who watched their jobs and futures be shipped overseas in recent decades.

For Pete, it sets him off on a personal downward spiral. In DOWN THE DARKEST STREET, we first meet Pete getting brutally beat up in an alley next to a bar by two guys. Another night in this tropical paradise. Segura writes, “..the pub felt like another dark world: dark, dirty and out of place. Time passed. He had a few whiskey shots to go with his seven or eight beers and felt rough. Not smooth, like he used to after a few rounds, when the buzz glowed around his face and made him smile without thinking about it. No, he felt rough and grimy, like bare feet on a dirty sidewalk.”

Pete is swirling the drain. He feels responsible for his best friend getting killed. His marriage collapsed. His ex got remarried, but then that marriage crashed and Pete is still clinging on. Segura writes, “His life had become a collection of ghosts from his past mingling with the detritus of his present with a dash of nostalgia and regret.” He gives AA a try and then gets involved investigating privately the case of a missing girl that brings him up against a brutal serial killer and the darkness of Miami past. And he becomes a target. Like the great sleuths of hard-boiled past, he quickly butts heads with the police. But like most of the dispossessed journalists, he has a skill. His ex’s husband tells him, “You’re like a dog with a bone --- you just don’t let these kinds of things go.”

DOWN THE DARKEST STREET marks the emergence not just of the next great crime fiction series, but of a writer on the rise. Segura’s protagonist may not be mean himself, but Segura is not just copying the classics. He is bringing something new to the table, which all the greats have done as well. His Pete Fernandez is an intelligent, college-educated professional a few years beyond 30. He harkens back even at that young age to a simpler time when life revolved around going out bar-hopping with friends and listening to music and partying. Life was the endless party. Segura writes: “Now it made him feel old --- the college kids using their fake IDs to score Long island Iced Teas and the cheesy bars with their faux Irish pub décor and fruity drinks. Every bar was packed and every drink was overpriced and every person seemed like someone’s idea of what was cool. Sad people pretending to be happy in the hopes of being happy with each other.”

True noir captures the truth of the age in which it is created: an age of fear and uncertainty. And for young people today, there is a sense that somebody heisted the American Dream they were promised as their birthright. That the reality for them is far worse than the image. That the dispossession is still to come. This is futile ground for crime writers. And Alex Segura is one of the best. DOWN THE DARKEST STREET is well worth your time. I look forward to future books featuring Pete Fernandez.

Reviewed by Tom Callahan on April 15, 2016

Down the Darkest Street: A Pete Fernandez Mystery
by Alex Segura

  • Publication Date: April 12, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Hard-boiled Mystery, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Polis Books
  • ISBN-10: 1940610753
  • ISBN-13: 9781940610757