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August 14, 2019

Alex Segura's Playlist for His Novel "Miami Midnight"

Miami Midnight

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 Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Alex Segura's Miami Midnight is another thrilling page-turner featuring P.I. Pete Fernandez. Vivid, poignant, and compelling, the book is almost impossible to put down.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"A dark and absorbing read from Miami native Segura, this fifth novel in an acclaimed series appears to be the finale. But fans will root for Pete’s return, not yet ready to part with the engaging sleuth or the compellingly evoked setting."

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

A flashback to a crime scene. An assassin speeding toward his target. A retired private eye, nursing his wounds. A fading Cuban gangster desperate to find the truth about his jazz pianist son’s death. A mysterious clue pointing back to a pivotal death.

So begins Miami Midnight, the fifth and - for now - final Pete Fernandez Mystery. As always, music is a constant backdrop to my process. While I can’t listen to music while writing, I often play music while thinking about writing, or about the story - using songs to create auditory textures and to help guide the work itself. Miami Midnight was no exception. Though music has played a part in every Pete novel, this time, it takes center stage - as Pete Fernandez and his lover/partner Kathy Bentley step out of the shadows to search for clues relating to the death of tragic jazz pianist Javier Mujica. The quest leads them down a path that also points to a greater, more personal mystery for Pete - the death of his mother.

Jazz and noir are stylistic cousins, with the former providing a sultry, moody soundtrack to tales of death, deception, and desperation. Miami Midnight blends the sounds of jazz with the tropical backdrop to create a pulsing noir story that harkens back to classic crime tales from jazz’s heyday, but also manages to stay firmly entrenched in the modern day.

Here are a few songs that bounced around my head during the crafting of Miami Midnight. You can find the complete, 80+ song playlist, here.

“So What” Miles Davis
An unforgettable track from Miles’s seminal Kind of Blue album, “So What” starts off with a slow boil intro, showcasing the trumpeter’s key players - including pianist Bill Evans, saxophonists “Cannonball” Adderly and John Coltrane - to confidently, smoothly, and evocatively lay claim to one of the greatest jazz songs ever. Rhythmic, nuances, and surprisingly powerful, there was never any question what jazz tune would kick off this playlist.

“Comeback Kid” Sharon Van Etten
The first single from Van Etten’s magnificent new album, “Comeback Kid” is a pulsing, powerful ode to rebirth and empowerment, which fits in perfectly with the opening chapters of Miami Midnight, a story that finds our hero, Pete Fernandez, dusting himself off for one last jump into the fray. Van Etten’s sultry, raw vocals evoke the hesitant, but brave stance Pete takes in the early stages of the book.

“That’s Good” DEVO
Nervous, loaded with anxious momentum, and soaring over mesmerizing keys and clap-stop drums, DEVO’s “That’s Good” sounds like a lost early Talking Heads and B-52s lovechild, with a feel-good lead vocal and chugging backbeat that is wholly unique.

“Let It Bleed” Rolling Stones
No one can survive alone. That’s a theme of Miami Midnight - even in the worst of times, you need your friends. You need someone to lean on. Someone to bleed on. The Stones’ drowsily, shambling ballad of excess and desperation has long been connected to Pete’s story in my own head. I’m amazed it took me this long to include it on an actual playlist. Hands down, my favorite Stones tune, by a mile.

“Paul” Big Thief
This plaintive, searching love letter to romantic mistakes and drunken indiscretions lives and breathes in the gray areas of life, basking in the glow of bad choices and whiskey-stained kisses. Riding on the waves of a throbbing bass and morose, desultory vocals that still manage to sounds appealing, “Paul” is the song we sing to that one ex, but never out loud.

“I Remember You” Rilo Kiley
This relatively obscure Rilo Kiley b-side gained new traction as part of the band’s rkives compilation, and succeeds thanks to a sexy, back-and-forth vocal between lead singer Jenny Lewis and guest vocalist Benji Hughes. A story of a fleeting meeting that turns into much more, it reminds me of the Pete Fernandez Mysteries’ central romance - Pete and Kathy - and how they first met under dubious, brief circumstances, only to become much more.

“America!” Bill Callahan
I first heard Callahan’s droning, haunting song as part of the Wild, Wild Country documentary soundtrack, and found myself utterly mesmerized. Simple yet dense, sludgy yet urgent, the tune serves up Callahan at his best, and perfectly presents the sense of monotony that is suddenly interrupted by dangers unknown in the pages of my novel.

“Motion Sickness” Phoebe Bridgers
A self-aware and painfully honest look at a failed relationship, Bridger’s song pulls no punches - and leaves no side without bruises and scrapes. Biting but also tender, the song builds toward a sharp, cutting apex, with Bridgers admitting that her ex-paramour had first in a band before she was even born and should’ve known better. A swan song to bad men and bad behavior, it felt like the right tune to include in a story about Pete’s quest to find the truth about his own mother, and how she overcame her own checkered past - to a point.

“Endgame” Taylor Swift
Swift’s star-studded, hip-hop infused, and propulsive love song is empowered, loaded with energy and confidence that is addictive and euphoric. Future and Ed Sheeran’s cameos add some spice to an already savory dish that’s ready to skip the games and reach the finale. Sound familiar?

“Let the Mystery Be” 10,000 Maniacs, featuring David Byrne
This hidden gem, from the Maniacs’ historic MTV Unplugged sessions, features ex-Talking Heads frontman David Byrne joining the group for a song about uncertain futures, accepting your fate, and moving forward. A fitting last track on the last Pete Fernandez playlist. Let the mystery be, indeed.

Alex Segura and Miami Midnight links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Library Journal review
Publishers Weekly review

Comics Beat interview with the author
Criminal Element interview with the author
Entertainment Weekly profile of the author
Hollywood Reporter interview with the author
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Dangerous Ends
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Down the Darkest Street
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Silent City

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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