“It was barely eleven and Carmen Valdez already wanted to die.”
Doesn’t exactly sound like someone working at their dream job, does it? Carmen Valdez knows that being the secretary for the owner/editor-in-chief of Triumph Comics isn’t what she wants, but she’s hoping it’s at least a foot in the door…a first step on her journey to writing comic books for a living.
Unfortunately, Carmen has an uphill climb ahead: she’s a woman trying to navigate the good-old-boy network of the 1970s comic book industry. She’s young and talented and determined, and that should be enough, but so far it’s been nothing but slammed doors and frustration.
Desperate for any opportunity, Carmen jumps at the chance offered by a co-worker, Harvey Stern. Harvey is a journeyman writer and editor who needs something to pitch to their boss, and he knows Carmen is looking for a way in. He proposes that they work together on a new series which Harvey will take initial credit for, revealing Carmen’s involvement once it gets rolling. That way, he reasons, she’ll have proven her chops and the company will have no choice but to recognize and utilize her talent.
This sets off all kinds of alarm bells for Carmen, but she pushes her worries and mistrust aside for what she thinks may be her only shot at pursuing her dream. And, for a moment, it looks like their scheme may work — The Legendary Lynx is a major hit for the company. But before they have time to tell the truth, Harvey is murdered, and Carmen finds herself wondering if she may be next on the hit list.
In my mind, Secret Identity would have been a solid read even if it had stuck solely to Carmen’s attempts to make her way in the world of comics. Segura brings the offices of Triumph Comics to vivid life; you can see the spilled ink, smell the haze of cigarette smoke, hear the rustling of paper and the scratching of pens, the ringing of the phones and the chatter of artists, writers, and editors. The portions of the book spent in the Triumph offices, or just discussing the business and artistry of comics in general, are my favorite.
Fortunately, the murder of Harvey Stern is the basis of an engrossing mystery, one populated with the kind of seedy characters and hidden agendas that are a blast to navigate. Segura does a great job balancing these two parts of the story, eventually dovetailing them into one engrossing story.
The only misstep in my eyes is a sub-plot involving an ex-lover of Carmen’s who shows up during this most hectic and trying time. This character and the story between the two is just not on the same level as the rest of the novel, but it wasn’t enough of a distraction to ruin the rest of the reading experience for me.
Secret Identity is an early favorite of mine in this young reading year, and is highly recommended.