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Book: “Secret Identity” by Alex Segura
Publishing Info: Flatiron Books, March 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley as part of this Blog Tour.
Book Description: From Anthony Award-winning writer Alex Segura comes Secret Identity, a rollicking literary mystery set in the world of comic books.
It’s 1975 and the comic book industry is struggling, but Carmen Valdez doesn’t care. She’s an assistant at Triumph Comics, which doesn’t have the creative zeal of Marvel nor the buttoned-up efficiency of DC, but it doesn’t matter. Carmen is tantalizingly close to fulfilling her dream of writing a superhero book.
That dream is nearly a reality when one of the Triumph writers enlists her help to create a new character, which they call “The Lethal Lynx,” Triumph’s first female hero. But her colleague is acting strangely and asking to keep her involvement a secret. And then he’s found dead, with all of their scripts turned into the publisher without her name. Carmen is desperate to piece together what happened to him, to hang on to her piece of the Lynx, which turns out to be a runaway hit. But that’s complicated by a surprise visitor from her home in Miami, a tenacious cop who is piecing everything together too quickly for Carmen, and the tangled web of secrets and resentments among the passionate eccentrics who write comics for a living.
Alex Segura uses his expertise as a comics creator as well as his unabashed love of noir fiction to create a truly one-of-a-kind novel–hard-edged and bright-eyed, gritty and dangerous, and utterly absorbing.
Review: Thank you so much to Maris Tasaka of Macmillan for sending me an eARC of this book via NetGalley and for including our blog on the Blog Tour of this book!
My enjoyment of comic books and therein graphic novels was solidly influenced by my mother, who was an avid DC fan as a child. During a childhood trip to visit my grandparents in Iowa, my mother managed to find a huge box of her old comics, and I had a grand old time reading through them and familiarizing myself with Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Batman (I feel like this was her favorite title; SO MANY BATMAN COMICS). I definitely spent some time thinking about this as I read “Secret Identity”, a new literary mystery from Alex Segura, that has its main thrust and story in the comics industry during the 1970s (about ten years after my Mom was reading the various heroes of DC), and starring a young woman named Carmen who loves comics and is working with them, though not at the capacity she’d like. Because misogyny and racism, of course! That alone is compelling as hell, but when you add some ghost writing, an unstable ex, and a murder to boot? That’s even more tantalizing.
“Secret Identity” is fast paced, suspenseful, and it sends the reader back to 1970s New York City with ease. As I was reading I felt deeply immersed in the time and place, able to picture everything that was being described. The setting makes for a great mystery, given that 1970s New York City was gritty and grim in many ways, and Segura gives us a solid whodunnit with a fantastic detective at the forefront. I really loved Carmen as our protagonist, as she is determined and ambitious, as well as very relatable and likable while trying to balance her gender, ethnicity, and sexuality in a very patriarchal vocation and society. I was righteously indignant for her given the fact that she is a Latin woman working in a boys club industry during a time of changing gender dynamics, and her experiences very much reflect that. Be it being dismissed by her boss, being seen as a secretary and not much more, being hit on by men and having to fend them off while hiding the fact she’s into women, or being excluded from her coworkers, even in inadvertent ways, Carmen has to deal with a lot of shit. And she does it because she loves comics, she lives and breathes comics, and that makes her tolerate it all…. Until a coworker named Harvey approaches her for creative help on a new character they call The Lynx, a female superhero that subverts the norms. Carmen is the force behind the best parts of her, but Harvey takes the full credit because of course he does. Carmen’s anger about this is kind of short lived, however, as before she can confront him he is murdered. And the reason for that may be because of the Lynx. Combining this violation of her creative property with a murder mystery makes for a very complicated journey for Carmen, as while she has to frame it as wanting to find justice for her friend, there is the deeper component of wanting to reclaim her character, but also being in danger BECAUSE of the character. The mystery is very well crafted, and Segura lays out the clues and has a number of well placed red herrings to boot.
And this entire story is a true Valentine to superhero comics and the way they can sweep a reader up and influence them, while being realistic about what the comics industry was like during the time period. Carmen is not only a great noir-esque amateur detective, but I loved how Segura made her love and passion for comics so evident and believable, and how honest he is about the highs and lows of the comics industry. Carmen’s enthusiasm and knowledge is really fun on the page, and we even get to see some of the pages of the comics of The Lynx as the story goes on and when the themes are relevant (given that Segura is also a comics writer, these moments were extra awesome and felt really authentic). And while this takes place in the 1970s, my guess is that some of the issues are timeless, and Segura takes on mediocre writers who get promotions based on sex and race, misogyny, idea theft, and other toxic realities of being a woman and POC in the comics industry. It adds another layer to the mystery, given that Harvey was more than happy to steal the credit from Carmen and figured that there wouldn’t be anything she could do about it. It all comes together nicely and in a way that adds to the plot and makes it all the more complex and interesting.
I definitely enjoyed “Secret Identity”, and already have a wide swath of people in mind as to who I would recommend it to (my Mom, for instance)! The buzz around this book is absolutely spot on. Anyone into superhero comics from the era, or just comics in general, should pick it up!
Rating 9: A solid mystery, a love letter to comics, and a stirring character study, “Secret Identity” is a must read for comics fans and mystery fans alike!
Other Stops on the Blog Tour: