On one of my visits to Miami, I witnessed someone switch without hesitation from Yiddish to English to Spanish. Though New York City might pride itself as the melting pot, Miami lives it each and every day. Alex Segura’s Dangerous Ends (Polis Book) gets much of its vibrancy and life from Miami’s internacional.
Dangerous Ends opens as Batista’s Cuba crumbles in 1959. Diego Fernandez sits in his home office, his family is on the run to safety, his friends are being slaughtered, and the Cuba Fernandez loves is being destroyed. Then in walks a delegate from Castro’s regime with a job offer: acceptance would be the antithesis of Diego’s life and rejection means certain death. Diego stubbornly sticks with his principles.
Segura then brings us to present day Miami where we meet private investigator Pete Fernandez, who is also the grandson of Diego. Pete is finishing up his surveillance on a cheating husband but before he headed back home, he knew he needed the money shot — so to speak —, “It was Pete’s job to make these things airtight.” As a private investigator, Pete Fernandez enjoys the monotony of “chasing deadbeat dads for child support money and snagging people on insurance fraud,” but when the opportunity comes up to help his friend and free-lance journalist, Kathy Bentley, investigate the ten-year-old case of a wife-killing narcotics cop, Fernandez cannot say no.
There are a lot of moving parts within Dangerous Ends, but Segura never confuses us with a jumbled cast of characters or drown the reader in new and contrary information as what happens with lesser writers; he’s got it locked down. One of the other pleasures of reading Dangerous Ends is Segura’s mastery at writing little scenes that bask in their truth. Here is Pete Fernandez at a Waffle House.
The door jangled as he opened it and walked into the restaurant. The bright lights coated the place’s yellow and brown décor, giving the space a grimy, painted-on feeling. He took a seat at the counter and nodded as the waitress handed him a sticky plastic menu. Like most nights, the place was empty, except for a group of teenagers plotting their evening and an elderly couple sitting by the windows facing the expressway, finishing their dinner. The faint sound of the Eagles filtered through the overhead speakers, the bland, finger-picky ballad spreading over the evening like lukewarm gravy that needed a bit more salt. He motioned for the waitress, a woman in her late forties named Ruth. She had kind eyes and a cigarette-coated voice that made Pete feel at home, even here in the middle of nowhere. She nodded and walked over.
He didn’t need a menu. He didn’t even need to say his order, but the ritual was part of the pleasure of coming here.
“Hey, hon,” she said. “How’s your night going?”
“So far,” Pete said, “not bad.”
“You look tired,” she said, pulling her notebook from her apron and clicking her pen.
“If you’re perpetually tired, is that a thing?”
“It’s the kind of thing you cure with either coffee, sleep, cocaine, or a doctor’s prescription,” she said. “What’ll it be?”
“Just two scrambled eggs and a side of home fries.”
Ruth smiled and moved toward the kitchen.
But what makes Dangerous Ends really succeed is Segura’s central character, Pete Fernandez. Like his fictional hard-boiled detective predecessors, Fernandez is broken, but unlike them, he is deliberately on the mend. Fernandez might slip in his journey through sobriety, but he isn’t going to fail by ignoring his mistakes either. Fernandez is not some sort of hippie-feel-good-crystal-wearing-self-help-new-millennium guy, he’s just not dumb, though he makes his share of stupid mistakes which just makes him a character who exists off the pages as well as on.
Dangerous Ends is the third in the Pete Fernandez books and the first that I have read. Though I caught spoilers from the earlier works, Segura’s writing is good enough for me to go back and enjoy the earlier books in the Fernandez universe, spoilers be damned.