“Blackout” by Alex Segura. Polis Books, 336 pages, $25.99
South Florida can be a state of mind, and it’s hard to get the region out of your head whether you live here, are visiting or are just aware of the craziness that is the Sunshine State. Alex Segura explores that Florida state of mind in his fourth hard-boiled novel about reporter turned private investigator Pete Fernandez. “Blackout” works well as a decidedly noir character study about Pete, who is constantly under siege by his own demons, as well as a story about Florida, past and present.
Pete thought he had left Florida behind when he reinvented himself as a private detective and relocated his Fernandez Investigations to a strip mall in Spring Valley, N.Y. Florida brought violence and uncertainty to his life, and the farther away, the better he is at being sober and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.
But Florida — and his past — pull him back when he finally agrees to take a case for Ellen and Trevor McRyan, a charming, popular Florida state senator who’s planning to run for governor. The couple want Pete to find their wayward son, Stephen, before his antics embarrass them and sabotage Trevor’s campaign. Pete takes the case only because he thinks he recognizes Stephen as someone he knew by a different name who was linked to the death of a classmate. In 1998, Miami high school senior Patty Morales went missing, her boyfriend murdered.
The search takes Pete and his former private detective partner, Kathy Bentley, on a deep tour of Miami and its environs, beginning with the late 1990s when a powerful religious cult was making headlines. In Pete, Segura has created a tough, flawed character who continues to deal with his alcoholism. So far, Pete has stayed sober, but he knows that at any moment he may succumb, especially when back in his hometown. “Miami overwhelms you sometimes,” Pete remarks. Segura makes those struggles worth caring about.
Segura, a former South Florida journalist, knows the region well, and he imbues “Blackout” with an insider’s view, as well as familiar scenes such as Vizcaya, the Biltmore Hotel, LeJeune Road and the restaurant Islas Canarias. Although “Blackout” occasionally goes over the top with its action, Segura keeps it believable. It is, after all, Miami. Segura is just what South Florida crime fiction needed.
Meet the author
Alex Segura will discuss “Blackout” 7 p.m. May 23 with Steph Post, author of “Walk in the Fire,” at Books and Books, 265 Aragon Ave., in Coral Gables, 305-442-4408, BooksAndBooks.com; and 7 p.m. May 24 with Mike Creeden, author of “All Your Lies Came True,” at Murder on the Beach, 273 Pineapple Grove Way, Delray Beach, 561-279-7790, MurderOnTheBeach.com.
Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at email@example.com.