Reviewed by Kristen Valentine
Miami, Florida. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Probably palm trees and sunshine, maybe some of the strange happenings we often hear about in the news these days (drag-racing Justin Bieber, sinkholes, misspelled freeway exit signs, this); it all makes you wonder. Is Florida really like that, or is there more to it? The Florida you’ll find within the pages of Alex Segura’s Silent City hints hard at the latter. Noir instead of neon, brutal instead of beachy, this debut novel hits all the hard-boiled targets: guns, money in a duffle bag, a damsel in distress, a hero with a drinking problem and a self-destructive streak a mile wide. It’s a gritty ride through a Miami that tourists don’t visit, and a modern commentary on how we only see what we want to see.
Pete Fernandez is kind of a disaster. Once a promising investigative reporter, now he’s gradually washing out of his current job as a sports desk copy editor by day and drinking himself unconscious by night. Maybe it’s residual grief from the sudden death of his cop father, maybe it’s because his fiancée left him, but either way, Pete’s in no shape even to help himself, let alone help anyone else. That’s why it’s so odd when a coworker, Chaz Bentley, asks our hero for help in locating his daughter, Kathy, a journalist who hasn’t been answering her phone for a few days. Pete agrees because Kathy is peripherally connected to his dwindling circle of friends, as well as to a buddy from Pete’s misspent youth. But as Pete checks into Kathy’s home and work life, he discovers an even more powerful connection between himself and the missing woman: before she disappeared, she was investigating a case that also had consumed Pete’s father before his death, an alarmingly prolific contract killer known as the Silent Death.
Tightly plotted, Silent City is a fast, compelling read, one set to an impeccable soundtrack. Segura clearly knows his way around a vinyl collection, deftly using music to set moods as well for characterization. Pete is a likeable protagonist – the fact that he’s an amateur detective gives him a kind of scrappy credibility as he bumbles along in the early stages of his investigation. But he can be a little frustrating to watch as he moves between dangerous decisions, not exactly out of intentional disregard for his own safety and that of those around him, but more like a kind of obliviousness. The very fact that I as a reader was worried about him speaks to Segura’s strong sense of his character, though, which is a compliment of the highest order. The women of Silent City may leave a bit to be desired; I would have liked to see more complexity especially from Pete’s ex-fiancée, Emily, but her main role seems to be reflecting Pete’s inner unhappiness right back at him. This is the first entry in a series, so hopefully Emily will have more to do in future cases. I, for one, will be reading. I’m definitely interested in another trip to Pete Fernandez’s Miami – a dark, dazzling place where there might not be any loosed kangaroos, but there is plenty of danger. And let’s face it: isn’t that more fun to read about anyway?
Don’t take our word for it: read it for yourself! Buy a copy of Silent City at Amazon.