Down the Darkest Street by Alex Segura (Polis Books, Apr 12) – The sophomore effort; at times as much a challenge for the fan as it is for the artist/writer/musician. There’s been a precedent set by the debut and now you’ve got to follow up and either meet or exceed expectations.
So does Alex Segura accomplish that? Does he fall into the sophomore slump like so many before him?
No. No he does not. In fact, Down the Darkest Street is a much stronger book than Silent City. Segura shows growth as both a writer and adept storyteller; taking a few risks with his protagonist, Pete Fernandez, that most writers wouldn’t. To me, that’s what helps the story not only stand out, but exist as almost its own debut. Sure, there’s continuity, but it doesn’t feel encumbered by that continuity—which is refreshing.
After the events of Silent City, Pete Fernandez is significantly worse off when we meet him in Down the Darkest Street. The car wreck that is his life is on fire, his personal demons are dragging him further down into a hole he may not climb out of, and now a killer is not only targeting young women in Miami, but soon targets Pete as our hero investigates the disappearance of a teenage girl duped into meeting a dangerous stranger online.
Down the Darkest Street; Segura keeps his promise with that title. This is a dark story—much darker than Silent City. The key piece, though, is Segura’s insistence that Pete’s personal demons be the ultimate threat. Pete suffers with guilt and alcoholism. No external threat trumps those issues, but those issues enhance the external threats. How can a man in this shape possibly solve murders and keep himself safe? How can he stop those he cares about from being in the crossfire if he’s already failed at that before? It’s a powerful character study and it drives the narrative forward at a breakneck pace. It’s an overused compliment, but readers will absolutely care about Pete and where this story takes him. As a matter of fact, the reader will care for Pete’s supporting cast as well. Segura does a great job injecting returning characters with interesting new story lines and bringing in new, and welcome, supporting cast members that help flesh out Pete’s world further.
And just like Silent City, Segura breathes life into a modern Miami that feels drenched in both sunshine and darkness. I enjoy the distance from a neon-lit wonderland, Segura’s Miami is a sweat-soaked mess and the corners are caked in grime. The lack of tacked on glamour or romanticism is helpful, this is Pete’s story and while Miami is deeply ingrained in his life, it is not an overbearing force.
Overall, Segura’s second effort dazzles and is sure to lock in fans for the third Pete Fernandez book, Dangerous Ends. Those who can’t wait can pick up the short, Bad Beat (a prequel to Pete’s adventures written in collaboration with Rob Hart, whose protagonist, Ash McKenna also stars). Who knows the state Pete Fernandez will be in for Book 3, but damned if I’m not in for the ride.
Review copy of Down the Darkest Street provided by the publisher