Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dangerous Ends

This August, for the very first time, I plan to take a trip down to Miami.  I'll fly from New York to Miami, and then from there rent a car to work my way through the Everglades and down through the Keys. I'm ready to sweat, but that's all right. I like the heat. And I'm sure that before I leave, I'll start getting in the mood  for southern Florida by reading some John D. MacDonald and Vicki Hendricks.  Also, James W. Hall and Charles Willeford.  Many more.  But one person I won't be reading who sets his books in and around Miami is Alex Segura.  I don't see myself doing that. But that's because he's written three books so far and I read all three.  His first two featuring his PI character, Pete Fernandez - Silent City and Down the Darkest Street - I read last year, and I just closed the back cover on his latest, Dangerous Ends.  

In the first two books, we got a look at Pete Fernandez as he grappled with alcoholism and vicious killers.  Almost inadvertently, through force of circumstance, he became a detective.  These two books felt like origin stories, tales of a character's difficult evolution. Pete helps solve two violent cases, but he makes many mistakes along the way. He causes pain to people he loves, and gets people killed. He's an unusual creation, a man we watch learning to be a private eye, a process that comes with messiness and grief. 

Despite everything, Pete Fernandez perseveres, and he finds that he likes detective work.  He's not suicidal, he tries to avoid danger, but he doesn't let danger paralyze him either. He pushes towards competence. And by the time we see him in Dangerous Ends, he's learned a lot about his craft.  He's actually become a professional private investigator.  He's not overly ambitious but has found a client niche that suits him. He can make a few bucks and attend AA meetings and live in peace.  He's more assertive at his job and becoming halfway proficient at life.

His creator, Alex Segura, has been proficient from the start of this series, but Dangerous Ends is his best work to date.  Of the three novels, it's the most strongly plotted.  It has more of a true mystery element than the first two books, and the twists and revelations continue till nearly the final page. Segura's ability to evoke a Miami beyond the usual famous and colorful spots remains impressive, and in this book, he adds something extra, tying the mystery plot to Pete's past and to his family's past in pre-Castro Cuba.  Past and present intersect as Pete gets deeper and deeper into a case way out of his professional comfort zone.  He investigates crimes that were set in motion by events that happened decades ago, in Havana.  Segura has said that he drew upon stories connected to his own family's history, and perhaps it's that dip into personal material that adds a subtle emotional layering to the book.  You learn a lot about Pete's childhood, and he comes to have a clear understanding of the sacrifices made and the blood shed by people very close to him who didn't want to compromise with forces they considered unjust and tyrannical. 

As I've found from the start with the Pete Fernandez books, Segura's writing has a smooth flow and just the right rhythm. He doesn't write flashy prose, but he virtually never writes an awkward sentence.  It helps make the novels exceedingly readable, and I zipped through Dangerous Ends as I zipped through Pete books 1 and 2.  I look forward to Pete number 4.

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