And Then I Read: SECRET IDENTITY by Alex Segura

This is a noir murder mystery taking place in New York City in 1975, a time when the city itself was in financial trouble, the streets were dirty and could be dangerous, and noir seems the right description for them. New York is also the traditional birthplace of comic books, with companies like National (DC) Comics, Timely/Atlas/Marvel, Dell, Fawcett and many others having great success there with them in the 1940s and 1950s, but by the mid 1970s, sales were way down, and comics pundits were predicting the demise of the industry at any moment. I started working in the DC Comics production department in 1977, and most of the comics creation and production insider information in the book as well as many of the characters based on real people or composites of real people seemed quite familiar to me. I found nothing in the book that hit a wrong note, or presented an impossible circumstance, except perhaps for the actual murders, but then it is a murder mystery.

Carmen Valdez is the secretary and right-hand person of Triumph Comics’ boss Jeffrey Carlyle, a small publisher trying to compete with the big boys, DC and Marvel, and just getting by with a few popular titles. Carmen is 28, and her love of comics has brought her here from Miami in the hope of finding work as a comics writer, but her boss, who depends on her people skills, is not really interested in her script proposals. Frustrated, she teams up with a fellow Triumph production staffer, Harvey Stern, who also wants to write for the company. Since Carmen’s attempts have hit a wall, they agree to put Harvey’s name as sole author of their new character, The Lynx. Most of the ideas and text are by Valdez, incorporating things she’s been thinking about for years, but Stern helps her mold them into several good scripts, or so they hope. They end up on the desk of Triumph boss Carlyle, he loves them, and puts his best artist to work on them. Sample pages of the comic that also contribute to the plot are interspersed through the book. Meanwhile, Carmen is feeling cheated of credit for her work, and goes to Harvey’s apartment to confront him about it. She’s shocked to find him killed by a single gunshot. His murder is the first but not the last, and Carmen soon finds herself not only a suspect, but a possible target.

Alex is a comics insider himself, but the era in question involved much research, as it’s well after his time in the business. I think he got it right. The story is well done, the characters and plot drew me right in. At times the name checking of actual comics creators was a bit distracting, but in all I found this a great read and I highly recommend it. Well done!

Secret Identity by Alex Segura

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.