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April 11, 2017

Book Notes - Alex Segura "Dangerous Ends"

Dangerous Ends

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Alex Segura's Dangerous Ends, the third book in his Pete Fernandez books, brings a broader scope to this compelling, hardboiled series.

Duane Swierczynski wrote of the book:

"Alex Segura is one of the most exciting and vital voices in crime fiction today, and his Pete Fernandez series is keeping private eye fiction alive and kicking (serious ass) in the new millennium. His work does what the best crime fiction should do: take us down city streets we wouldn’t dare visit alone."

In his own words, here is Alex Segura's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Dangerous Ends:

Redemption. Facing the past. Regrets. Legacy. Rebirth.

These are some of the words that stuck in my head during the earliest days of writing the book that would become Dangerous Ends. I knew I wanted to push my protagonist—washed up ex-journalist Pete Fernandez—forward and past the idea of the drunken, stumbling private eye, and that would involve some level of recovery and progress. But the things we start to see when we begin to clear the wreckage of our lives may very well frighten us back into the caves and darkness. Those were themes I wanted to touch on, and those were the kind of songs that continues to pop up as I thought about the book.

While I can't listen to music while writing (I find it too distracting, even lyric-less soundtracks send me off in the wrong direction), music is a big part of my writing process. It happens almost on its own: as I begin to think about and craft a new novel, I start collecting songs. I replay them and imagine key scenes or moments from the still-percolating novel. The music brings them to life.

Dangerous Ends, the third book in my Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery series, is my most ambitious piece of work. The book takes a different narrative approach—through flashbacks and a bit of time-hopping, we see the unfolding mystery from different perspectives. The structure (hopefully!) provides readers with a richer, more complex look at Pete, his hometown of Miami and how both reflect back on his family's roots in Cuba, as Castro began to take hold.

At the same time, Pete is retooling and rebuilding—trying to create a life for himself free of the alcoholism and foolish risk-taking that marred his brushes with death in the first two books. He only half-succeeds. It's in those gray areas—when you know you're doing something wrong or longing to do something wrong when you know you can't—that I found myself spending the most time, and I was often listening to songs of lost loves, regrets, missed opportunities and, sometimes, hope for what's to come.

"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" by Bryan Ferry
"Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" by The Handsome Family
These two Dylan covers couldn't be more different. One is a boisterous, anthemic, gleeful and ballsy remake of one of his most well-known tunes, the other a pretty conservative, if a bit idiosyncratic and dour re-do. Both have their charms: Ferry's bombastic vocals and Wall of Sound-ish backing making you almost forget the original. Meanwhile, The Handsome Family manages to out-sparse Dylan himself, which is equally impressive. Like anyone facing recovery, even the most familiar things can seem vastly or slightly off from what they remember before.

"Hangin' Round" by Lou Reed
"You're still doing things I gave up years ago," Reed chastises in the chorus of this gem, with him and his backing band in top, post-VU form, sounding tight, savvy and intentionally wobbly. "Hangin' Around" almost feels like a Lou Reed Mad Lib, which shouldn't be perceived as a slight—the song features all the DNA of a Reed masterpiece: unforgettable character bits, a sly narrator and the hint of something darker. An ode to those trying to move past their mistakes, but still haunted by certain people and places, much like Pete.

"Bemba Colora" by Celia Cruz
Dangerous Ends opens up in the past—flashing back to the early days of Castro's takeover of Cuba, giving readers a glimpse at the legacy Pete must carry with him into the present. The Cuban experience is something that weighs heavily on all the exiles now residing in Miami, and their children and grandchildren. No other singer better personifies Cuba—and the Miami exile community—than Celia Cruz. Her electric and rhythmic vocals take center stage on this track, which serves as a rousing dismissal of a loose-lipped ex-lover. Cruz delivers the cutting lyrics effortlessly—showcasing the force and verve she would become known for.

"Question" by Old 97s
The 97s plaintive and finger-picked ode to missed moments that crop up during the early, fragile days of a budding romance is both hopeful and sad, in large part to the singer's quivering vocals and simple arrangement. A short, lean song about taking risks, even after your heart's been broken more than a few times.

"Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go to The Party" by Courtney Barnett
What if Oasis and Liz Phair had a baby? A free-wheeling and fun tune that doesn't try to be more than it is—which is pretty great. The relief that comes with acceptance.

"How to Forget" by Jason Isbell
Isbell often sings of dark, broken romances and muddled and misguided memories. This song is no exception. The narrator, now in a happy and comfortable point in his life, still finds himself haunted—and aroused—by a past, combustible romance. A warning that even though our demons might be dormant, it just takes a few swigs of nostalgia to se3t them free—a lesson Pete learns again in the pages of Dangerous Ends.

"When You're Alone" by Bruce Springsteen
A somber, blue collar ditty about struggling through the ups and downs of life delivered by the master of the genre. Not sure anyone else could get away with the lyric "When you're alone/you're alone."

"Harlem River Blues" by Justin Townes Earle
Earle's song celebrates the good and the bad of life with an impressive and raucous burst of confidence, rollicking through to a euphoric climax. A man who knows himself, facing a dark, potentially fatal path. The closing track to the book if there ever was one.

"All This Useless Beauty" by Elvis Costello and the Attractions
"She'd be tempted to spit/if she wasn't so ladylike." The reformed Costello and the Attractions sidestepped consumer and critical expectations, choosing a more thoughtful and deliberate approach with their reunion record, of which this is the title track. Elegiac and somber, the song starts with Costello's spoken-sung verses and builds to a more forceful but still controlled apogee. Part story, part melancholy ode to society's failures, the song works as you want it, too—like most of Costello's best. In this case, it served as a strong reminder of Pete's past failures and missed opportunities, leaving no guarantees for a brighter future.

"Never Let Me Down" by David Bowie
Not one of Bowie's most beloved tracks but arguably one of his most sincere, this soulful ballad evokes the rawness and unfiltered emotions one feels after years of numbing or mind-altering addiction. The curtains are pulled back to reveal a dangerous vulnerability with a well-worn groove.

"Blue Pt. II" by Waxahatchee
"If you think I'll wait forever, you are right."
Raw, unadorned and hauntingly melodic, Waxahatchee's dreamy tale of love is deceptively light, with a rough, obsessive undercurrent that colors the most dangerous of failed relationships. This is the email you wish you'd never sent, long after the breakup.

Alex Segura and Dangerous Ends links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Authors on the Air Radio interview with the author interview with the author
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Down the Darkest Street
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Silent City
Sliver of Stone interview with the author
SyFy Wire interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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