HEAT VISION

Archie Comics Co-President on 'Miami Midnight,' the End of the Pete Fernandez Series

Alex Segura talks about the final book in his series of Pete Fernandez crime novels.
Courtesy of Polis Books
Alex Segura talks about the final book in his series of Pete Fernandez crime novels.

Alex Segura leads an interesting double life. By day, he’s the co-president of Archie Comics, as well as the writer of a number of projects for the company behind Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Archie Andrews and Riverdale. By night, however, he’s a successful crime novelist and the man behind the Pete Fernandez series of mysteries — a series that comes to an end with this week’s release of Miami Midnight.

To mark the end of the saga, Segura spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about the series, its conclusion and what comes afterwards — including a couple of comic book hints of what’s to come.

You’ve promoted this as the last Pete Fernandez book. Without spoiling anything inside the book itself… Why? What made you want to wrap it up after five books?

It’s time. When I set out on this journey, with Silent City, I really wanted to tell the story of how a screwed up guy could evolve into a functional private eye — and a functional man. By the end of this latest novel, we’re there. When we meet Pete Fernandez in Silent City, he’s passed out drunk in his apartment, about to get fired, just got dumped, and reeling from his father’s death. I don’t want to spoil where he ends up by the end of Miami Midnight, but along the way, readers see a very different man. He’s sober. He’s trying to be of service to not only himself, but his friends. He’s become the private eye he flirted with becoming.

Does he survive? Well, we’ll see.

There are two kind of crime series — at least when it comes to private eyes. The episodic, evergreen and plot-driven stuff, where the hero never changes and you’re entertained by what happens to them, and the more serialized takes, where each installment pushes the character forward and builds on what came before.

As a reader I enjoy both, but as a writer, I’m only interested in the latter. I want to see the character evolve, and I want to show the big arc. When I first got into reading modern crime novels, I wondered why more series didn’t spotlight the early days of their heroes. We never get to see “Marlowe: Year One,” for example. We just meet him, and he is. Which is fine, but I wanted to showcase the early days of a man that would, over time, become a great private eye. And now, as we hit the fifth novel in the series, I think he’s finally matured, so it’s time to step back.

How permanent is it intended to be? Your day job is in comics, where any kind of ending is at best temporary — even characters’ deaths. Is this really your goodbye to the character(s), or do you already have sneaky plans to come back at an undisclosed later date?

It’s a long goodbye to future adventures, at least for a while. I’m working on a novella that tells a story between the third and fourth novels, Dangerous Ends and Blackout, in tandem with fellow crime writer Erica Wright’s Kat Stone character. But as far as “new” Pete Fernandez adventures, it’s on hold. Though, ironically, I did start pecking away at a graphic novel idea with Pete, so I don’t want to be too absolute about anything.

Is it the last novel for good? I don’t know. I love these characters and I do think about them a lot. But I don’t have an immediate idea for the next one, which is very telling to me. Often, when I finish a Pete book, I’m either already working on the next one, or I have a clear picture of how the next one starts. This time I don’t.

I hope Miami Midnight serves as a fitting series finale for longtime readers. For newcomers, it’s also written in a way that you can dive in, and hopefully be intrigued enough by what’s referenced to go back and start from the beginning.

But yeah, for the time being, Miami Midnight is the closer to the whole thing. And hey, it’s hard to write Pete stories if he doesn’t survive, right?

Let’s veer away from the end to the beginning of this book, at least: Pete is… not a screw-up. He’s getting his life together, and even — gasp — listening to jazz. I’ll shy away from asking how much of this is autobiographical to instead ask: What’s it like writing this version of Pete, someone who has traditionally not been very good at keeping his life together?

It was nice, actually.

There was a point — I think around the second book — where it got really tough to write him as an active alcoholic. He relapses in that book, too, and that was probably the toughest scene to write in the whole series. Because as frustrating as Pete can be, you still root for him. That’s his charm, I think.

But even in the early pages of Miami Midnight, as “together” as Pete seems, he’s still got some stuff bubbling under — and he knows something is coming, even if he doesn’t know-know it. He’s “retired,” but still taking self-defense classes. He’s let his PI license lapse, but he still looks at old crime photos relating to the gunshot wound he suffered at the end of Blackout. So, yeah, it’s nice to write a more “together” Pete — but it’s really just an example of him working more clearly, no longer overwhelmed by his own addictions. That was part of the journey I wanted to tell too; about this guy not only struggling to be a good detective, but struggling to fight back his demons. Those have been the two tracks for the series, since the beginning.

There’s a fair amount of, for want of a better word, continuity in Miami Midnight — pieces of the story that don’t necessarily require readers to have read the earlier books, but certainly feel more impactful/important if they have. It made me think of your day job, in many ways: It’s the final issue in a comic book miniseries! Or, perhaps, the crime novel version of Avengers: Endgame. Were you worried about tying in earlier stories to this book, or is there a sense of, “It’s the last one, I’m doing what’s right for the story instead of worrying about scaring off newcomers”?

A little bit of both. The story always has to come first, no matter what. Sometimes I’d find a chance to weave in a little hat tip to continuity, but it dragged the narrative, so I had to chuck it. But the balance that was toughest to strike was making sure longtime readers, who’d been around since Silent City, got the payoff they wanted, but newcomers also felt like they got a great, accessible adventure that, ideally, pulled them back to the beginning of the series.

I was happy with the end result. Miami Midnight is, like you say, the last issue of a miniseries, or the TV series finale — most of the major threads from the first four books are resolved and Pete is left with a new status quo. Does he survive? Does Kathy survive? Well, we’ll see. But at the same time, I think the book stands on its own as just a fun, engaging caper — a mystery that gets to the heart of what I like about Pete, that he’s a real guy struggling to come to terms with the world around him, and how his own past can come back to bite him.

There are multiple mysteries in the book, including a couple that feel like they’re significant payoffs for longtime readers. Did you have this book in your head throughout the series? Was there a long game all along?

There was a little bit of one, yeah. I didn’t set out to write a series. I just wanted to see if I could write a novel. But by the end of Silent City, I had an idea for another one, and by the middle of the next one, I knew I’d write a few more. But so much real estate in the series is spent on Pete and his relationship with his dead father — he’s haunted by it. Early on I wondered, “Well, what happened to his mom?” I knew there was a story there, but I didn’t think I was ready to write it. So by the time Miami Midnight came around, I knew I needed a case that not only was a threat — but also cut to the heart of Pete.

That’s when I remembered his mom, who I’d only referenced a few times as having died in childbirth, and I thought, “Well, what if she was murdered? And what if she was an alcoholic?” It turns Pete’s world upside down, to think that this idea he always believed — that his mom was this angelic woman who died giving birth to him — was actually a flawed, real, conflicted woman who shared his addiction. I mean, alcoholism is often hereditary, and on top of that, for a while, Pete is reeling from the reality that his father kept his mother’s ultimate fate a secret.

So Miami Midnight not only punches Pete in the gut, it upends his entire belief system. Once that idea popped back into my head, I knew I had the hook for the last book.

With the series over, the obvious question is: What next? Is there another novel already in the works? Can we expect to see more comic book writing in the near future?

Yes, more comics are definitely on the horizon. I’ve got a few creator-owned things inching toward being announced and something Archie-related, all of which are completely different and exciting. I am working on another novel, too — a crime book set in the 1970s that while completely different from the Pete books still have some connective tissue that I can’t lose, Miami being the most notable. It’s not a PI novel, but we do meet a new protagonist who is thrust into the role of detective, and she’s been a lot of fun to write. I’ll say more as I get further into it.

Miami Midnight, published by Polis Books, is available now.

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