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Secret Identity

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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.

358 pages, Hardcover

First published March 15, 2022

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About the author

Alex Segura

116 books437 followers
Alex Segura is the bestselling and award-winning author of Secret Identity, which the New York Times called “wittily original” and named an Editor’s Choice. NPR described the novel as “masterful,” and it received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, and Booklist. Alex is also the author of Star Wars Poe Dameron: Free Fall, the Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery series, and a number of comic books – including The Mysterious Micro-Face (in partnership with NPR), The Black Ghost, The Archies, The Dusk, The Awakened, and more. His short story, “90 Miles” was included in The Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories for 2021 and won the Anthony Award for Best Short Story. By day he is the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Oni Press, with previous stints at Archie Comics and DC Comics.

A Miami native, he lives in New York with his wife and children.

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Profile Image for Meredith (Trying to catch up!).
813 reviews12.7k followers
January 8, 2022

“She had to become someone else to survive.”

Secret Identity is a creative mystery/character study about a young woman working in the world of comic books in the 1970s.

As a secretary at Triumph Comics, Carmen Valdez is working in her dream environment: a place where comic books are created. Her job might suck, but the possibility of one day writing a comic keeps her going. Even though Triumph is a low-budget, struggling outlet, she sees potential in its crumbling walls.

It finally seems like Carmen’s dreams are going to come true when she partners with her co-worker, Harvey, to create a new comic book series, “The Lethal Lynx.” But Carmen’s dreams are short-lived when Harvey is found dead, and Carmen is a suspect in his murder.

Secret Identity is more of a character study than a mystery, although the mystery is quite intriguing.

Carmen is the sole narrator, and she is an easy character to root for. She has a tough outer shell. Having to negotiate a misogynistic workplace and living in 1970s New York City, her toughness serves her well. Underneath, Carmen is struggling with her sexual identity, her past, and being recognized for her talent. The reader also learns why comics mean so much to Carmen through flashbacks to her childhood in Miami.

My favorite part of this book was the comic sequences of the Lynx, which were interspersed between chapters. The artwork is phenomenal! I only wish there had been more of them, as The Lynx mirrors Carmen's journey into self-acceptance and empowerment: “There was a theme--of an outsider trying to find justice, trying to reclaim an identity and legacy had long been denied.”

This is a slow-build character study. Themes of gender roles and sexuality, as well as the immigrant experience, are explored. I don't know much about the history of comics, but I learned a lot from reading Secret Identity. The ending had me in tears (happy tears).

This was my first read of 2022, and I am glad it was a good one!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,309 reviews120k followers
February 9, 2023
The comics business was messy—a slapdash sprint to meet immovable deadlines, a blur of pages flowing from production to editorial and back before being jettisoned out the door to the printer. Carmen loved it.
Miami was a city, too, Carmen knew—but New York was something else. A disease that bubbled and expanded and multiplied and morphed, like some kind of magical, mystical being that seemed from another world.
Carmen Valdez, late of Miami, is where she wants to be. She may not be exactly doing what she wants, but she is trying to get there. A New Yorker for the last year, Carmen is 28. She works at Triumph Comics, a third-tier publisher of such things, and is living the dream, if the dream is to be working as a secretary to a boss who cannot see past her gender, cannot even imagine a woman, let alone a Hispanic woman, actually writing stories for his press. But the stories are there, the ideas filling notebooks. She gives him some, but even if he bothers to read them, he dismisses the work out of hand. All she needs is a chance. And then one appears.

Alex Segura - image from Comicsbeat

Harvey Stern is a junior editor there, young, friendly. They bond over a shared love of the medium (a love she had acquired from her father taking her out for father-daughter bonding that included the buying of comics). They are friendly without being quite friends. The house has a sudden need for a new character; Harvey is given the job of coming up with one, a female hero who will get a rise out of young male Triumph readers. Carmen sees her opportunity and offers to “help.” Their work together goes well. The story is mostly hers, of course, but Harvey has some skills. They produce a pretty good book. It does well. Problem is that no one other than she and Harvey knows the truth about how it came to be. Then Harvey suffers a BLAM! BLAM! leaving him with even less conscious corporeality than an invisible six-foot pooka. Guess who finds the body? And the noir gets dark.
I’ve always been fascinated with Megan Abbott’s work and her ability to bring the tenets of noir to areas where you wouldn’t expect noir to exist—gymnastics, cheerleading, science, and so on. She crafts these narratives that are tense, fraught, and loaded with style outside of the typical noir settings. I remember reading Dare Me and just thinking, huh, wouldn’t it be cool to write a comic book noir? - from The Big Thrill interview
Segura had recently finished writing his Pete Fernandez Miami Mysteries, so has the chops to produce a pretty good whodunit. Carmen sees, in short order, that the police are not up to the task. She also knows that unless she can figure out why Harvey was killed, and by whom, she will never be able to get recognition for her work, or maybe sleep at night. Harvey is not the last person attacked by a mysterious villain.

The Legendary Lynx - from the book – image from The Firewire Blog

Secret identities abound here. Carmen hides her true author self from the boss because of the sexism of the age. Everyone seems to have a secret. Harvey certainly does did. Are all the names that we are given really the characters’ true names? Might there be an alias or two creeping around, for dark purposes?
she had to become someone else to survive
Segura has been busy in the comic book industry for many years, working on Archie Comics, while living in Miami, then moving to New York to work for DC. He has written detective novels, and a Star Wars book, stand-alone mysteries, short stories, a crime podcast, and probably an encyclopedia. He is married with kids, and I imagine that he must sleep some…time. Maybe he is one of the characters he writes about and his secret power is eternal wakefulness. Captain Insomnia takes on every request for writerly product, and satisfies them all.

He has a particular soft spot for the 1970s in the comics industry, when the industry’s body was laid out on the street, bleeding money and readers. Who would come to its rescue?
Well the comic book industry was really struggling at that time after the glory years of the 50s and 60s. Comics were struggling. It wasn’t like today, where we have shows about Peacemaker or obscure characters – it was considered a dying industry. So I wanted to use her passion for the medium and contrast it with comics at its lowest point, and then show her fighting to control this one thing she loves. - from the Three Rooms Press interview
This was a time when comic books were sold only on newsstands or in small stores, before there were comic book conventions, before the steady drumbeat of blockbuster films based on comic book characters. There was plenty wrong with the industry at the time (there probably still is), with notorious cases of people stealing credit for the work of others. Some of those are noted here. In fact, there are many references made to well-known names in the comic book industry. I am sorry to say that most just slipped past me, as I am not the maven for such things that Segura and no doubt many readers of this book are. I can report, though, that not knowing all the references did not at all detract from my overall enjoyment, and recognizing the ones I did enhanced the fun. He even tosses in a nod to a character of his from another project, as that character’s story was set in the same time period.

The Legendary Lynx - from the book – image from The Firewire Blog

There was plenty wrong with NYC at the time. I know. I remember. Fun City, originally a tossed-off line by a 1960s mayor facing multiple municipal crises (“It’s still a fun city.”) had not completed the shift to The Big Apple, itself a reconstitution of a city logo from the 1920s. The city, a political creation of the state, was starved by the state for the funds needed to provide the services it was required to offer, then was looked down on for that inability. It was a time when graffiti was ubiquitous, crime was up, and gentrification was beginning, as landlords were torching their properties to drive out residents so they could transform their buildings into co-ops. It was a time of white flight and a time when a local tabloid featured the infamous headline: Ford to City: Drop Dead, after NYC had turned to the federal government for aid. We get a taste with Carmen’s arrival.
the drab, claustrophobic walls of the Port Authority giving her the most honest first impression of New York she could expect. As she wandered the cavernous transport hub, a concrete behemoth at the tail end of the Lincoln Tunnel, she got a heavy dose of what she’d only imagined. A city in disrepair, boiled down into this one sprawling bus terminal. Leaky ceilings, shadowy conversations, blaring horns, and unidentifiable smells all coalesced into an unbridled fear that gripped Carmen as she stepped out into the New York sunlight.

The Legendary Lynx - from the book – image from The Firewire Blog

Carmen’s mission is to solve the crime of course (When a man���s woman’s partner is killed he's she’s supposed to do something about it. It doesn’t make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you’re supposed to do something about it.”), but it would not be a noir if Carmen did not have some personal struggles going on as she struggles to figure out whodunit. There are parental issues, which might not be quite noir-ish, but a dark episode from her past stalks her, which certainly is. And there are some romantic bits as well, which definitely fit. She may have been raised Catholic, but Carmen is no nun. All this serves to make for a rounded character, one we can cheer for. Part of that rounding involves some flaws as well, and not the sort we are used to in our primary investigators.

For example, did Carmen really believe that the boss would disbelieve her if she told him the truth about authorship of The Legendary Lynx? There is a scene in which Harvey gets weird and take off after a working-together session. Holy Tunnel Vision, Batman! No freaking out over that? And she lets Harvey take her notebooks, her primary and unbacked up material? Even the Daredevil wasn’t that blind. There was something else, of no real consequence, that really bothered me. There is a scene which entails Carmen walking from the East Side to the West Side of Manhattan without any mention of passing through Central Park, which is directly in the path, or walking around it. That just seemed odd, particularly coming from a guy who lives in New York. Like I said, no consequence.

One thing you will definitely enjoy is the inclusion in the book of seventeen pages from The Legendary Lynx. They presage events in the chapters that follow. It is a perfect addition to the book.

Music permeates, including nods to the venues of the day, The Village Vanguard, CBGBs, The Bottom Line, et al. Her roommate, Molly, is a musician, rubbing shoulders with rising stars, like Springsteen and Patti Smith.

Secret identity covers a fair bit of territory, an homage to a beloved industry in a dire time, a noir mystery, a look at the city where he now lives, when it was on its knees, while saluting the music of the time and the creators of the comic book industry, warts and all. And he tosses in a comic book for good measure. This is a fun read of the first order, even for those, like me, who may not be comic nerds. In producing this very entertaining novel, Alex Segura has revealed his true identity, at least for those who did not already know. Clearly, Seguro really arrived on this planet not in a Miami hospital ward, but probably somewhere in the Everglades, his ship originating in a galaxy far, far away. He may or may not be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, but he clearly wields otherworldly power as a writer. POW!
If it got published, I’d be ghostwriting it. . . . I mean, I’d get a shot, and if it did well we’d reveal my involvement, but. . . .”
“You’d be anonymous at first? Like his secret partner?”
Carmen waited a beat, letting her mind skim over what she already knew to be true. She nodded at Molly, hoping her friend couldn’t see her resigned expression in the dark.
“Is that what you want?” Molly asked. “To live your dream—in secret?”
Carmen felt her stomach twist into a painful, aching knot.

Review posted – March 11, 2022

Publication dates
----------Hardcover - March 15, 2022
----------Trade paperback - February 7, 2023

I received an ARE of Secret Identity from, well, I can‘t tell you, in return for a fair review. Thanks, folks. And thanks to NetGalley for facilitating an e-galley copy.

This review has been cross-posted on my site, Coot’s Reviews. Stop by and say Hi!

=============================EXTRA STUFF

Links to the author’s personal, FB, Instagram, and Twitter pages

Mostly on Segura’s process and insane productivity
-----The Big Thrill - Up Close: Alex Segura by April Snellings
-----Three Rooms Press - Stand Up Comix:> An Interview with Author Alex Segura

Item of Interest from the author
-----Segura’s Sub-stack

Items of Interest
-----When a man’s partner is killed…
Profile Image for Fran.
661 reviews629 followers
January 7, 2022
Her love of comics started with a "special routine", a walk to the farmacia with her Papi, who learned to read English with comics. "She needed to cover herself, hide herself, with a cloak of her own creation. Only then-in her cramped room, loaded with boxes of comics and drawings, and ideas-would she be safe."

Carmen Valdez, hailing from Miami, now lived in New York City. She worked as a secretary to the owner/editor-in-chief of Triumph Comics. In the 1970's, the waning comics industry was still dominated by Marvel and DC. Carmen had dreams of carving out a path to success with her creative ideas. Unfortunately, at that time, comic writing was a male dominated industry. Approached by junior editor Harvey Stern, Carmen thought success might be just around the corner.

Asked by Harvey to brainstorm, to help him create a new character, the Lethal Lynx, Triumph's first female superhero, was born. Carmen knew that Jeff Carlyle, Triumph's head honco, would not buy her scripts. Harvey's pitch seemed like a great opportunity. Carmen's "rudimentary drawings", from years past, were the basis for an agile, fast, feral-cat like hero who searched for the truth. "Harvey had dangled something in front of her that was a lifelong goal, a dream, however, he wanted her, for now, to be the ghostwriter." "[Carmen] couldn't control how she was credited...But she could control the story...In a few hours-she'd woven together a stack of pages...". The plan: "merge some of Harvey's notes with Carmen's scripts, pool their take on the Lynx".

Editor-in-chief, Carlyle had been impressed with the "page roughs-layouts and figures outlining what would happen in a issue...Carmen felt powerless, watching Carlyle tweak her creation...scripts that only bore Harvey's name." Why did Harvey send the scripts they had worked on, to the editor, without Carmen's approval? Why did Harvey looked harried, unkempt and fearful? He would be found dead, at home, with a bullet wound to the head. How could Carmen claim ownership of the Lynx now?

"Secret Identity" by Alex Segura is a thoroughly absorbing journey into the world of comics in the 1970's. Comics, beautifully rendered and intermittently placed within the novel, allow the reader to connect with the Lethal Lynx. Carmen would fight an uphill battle. She would try to forge a way forward in a male dominated industry, help solve the mystery of Harvey's death, and deal with a surprise, unwelcomed visitor from her past. Author Segura's compelling writing hit all the right notes, providing a detailed knowledge of the comics industry...superb, fleshed out characters with shifting loyalties and deceptions... an engrossing murder mystery. An excellent, highly recommended, page turner!

Thank you Macmillan Publishers and Flatiron Books for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for megs_bookrack.
1,605 reviews10.7k followers
January 12, 2023
**4.5-stars rounded up**

In 1975-New York City, Carmen Valdez finds herself working for the head of Triumph Comics as his administrative assistant. Carmen dreams of becoming a writer, but for now her assistant position will have to do.

Unfortunately, it's just the way in the industry, in the times, in the culture. Carmen has so many ideas, but good luck having them heard.

When one of her coworkers, a seemingly harmless man named Harvey, approaches her with a proposition to fulfill her dreams, she can't refuse.

He wants her help creating a new character. Of course her involvement would need to be kept secret initially, at least according to Harvey, but he sells her on the fact that after it is a success, they will reveal the truth to their boss. Then he'll have no choice but to take Carmen's ambitions seriously.

Carmen isn't naive. She knows she can't trust Harvey completely, but honestly, what choice does she have. She's desperate for a chance and her boss has repeatedly shot her down. This could be it.

Putting her reservations aside, Carmen agrees to help Harvey and over multiple brainstorming sessions, the two create Triumph's first female hero, The Lethal Lynx.

After their scripts have been submitted, with Carmen's name absent from the credits per their earlier agreement, Harvey is brutally murdered. With Harvey's death comes absence of proof that Carmen played any role in their creation.

Harvey was the only person who knew the amount Carmen contributed to The Lethal Lynx. She is completely gutted. Carmen needs to find out what happened. It doesn't seem random, but who would want Harvey dead?

Secret Identity took me completely by surprise. I wasn't quite sure what to expect going into this. Being pitched as a 'literary mystery' made me a little nervous. That's not really my genre.

I've read from Alex Segura before, however, and enjoyed his writing style. Additionally, the fact that this has the comic book industry as the backdrop was extremely interesting to me. I decided to give it a go.

I'm so glad that I gave it a shot. This is literal scientific proof that reading outside of your comfort zone can be a good thing! Just trust me on this.

This entire book is dripping with atmosphere. 1975s New York City was a thing; a character unto itself. Segura brought all of that to life within these pages.

Carmen was an extremely likable character. It was captivating getting to know her, a bit about her past, and of course getting to see behind the scenes of the comic book industry.

I was super impressed with the film noir quality Segura was able to channel into this story. It is such a unique and enjoyable experience.

As a side note, I did listen to the audiobook and highly recommend that format. Included in the narrative are occasional excerpts from The Lethal Lynx comics, for which super fun sound effects are included in the audio version. That was really a treat!

I would definitely recommend giving this one a go. There's so much to enjoy in this story for a vast array of Readers.

Go ahead, give it a shot!

Thank you so much to the publisher, Flatiron Books and Macmillan Audio, for providing me with copies to read and review.

I had such a great time listening to this book and will definitely be picking up further works from Alex Segura!!
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,964 followers
March 15, 2022
I won a free advance copy of this from the publisher.

It’s hard to believe these days when multiple blockbuster movies and popular TV shows are based on superheroes, but there have been several points over the years when it looked like the comic book industry was swirling the drain.

1975 was such a time, but that hasn’t stopped Carmen Valdez from pursuing her dream of being a comic book writer in New York. Unfortunately, the closest she’s come so far is working as a secretary for the publisher of struggling Triumph Comics, and her boss has made it clear that he’d rather buy work from washed up male writers then give a young woman a chance. When a friendly colleague named Harvey asks her to help him come up with a new hero to meet a deadline, Carmen works with him to quickly develop a female superhero they call the Lethal Lynx. Harvey promises that if the publisher likes the new character he’ll give Carmen her share of the credit.

However, Carmen is shocked to learn that Harvey misled her and submitted several scripts she primarily wrote under his own name. Before Carmen can confront Harvey about this, the young man is murdered, and Carmen can only watch helplessly as the character she’s created becomes popular and is handed off to hacks. There’s a suspicious police detective who thinks Carmen knows more than she’s saying, and Carmen has another problem when a former friend she has a complicated history with shows up in New York. Eventually, Carmen thinks the key to figuring out who murdered Harvey and proving that she co-created the Lynx lies in Harvey’s shady history in the industry.

I started reading comic books as a kid in the ‘70s, and I’m a fan of the mystery/crime genre so no surprise that this book hooked me immediately. This feels like an authentic look at the comic scene of the ‘70s, and there's a distinct vibe that this is a grungy subset of publishing that isn’t respected, even by most of the people working in it. Alex Segura has worked a lot in the industry so the details feel right, and the references all come across as part of the detailed background rather than cheap wink-and-nudge references to make fanboys giggle.

There’s also a cool feature with actual comic book pages featuring Carmen’s Lynx stories scattered throughout the book, and artist Sandy Jarrell does a great job of making these panels have a cool ‘70s style. If they actually wrote and published a Lethal Lynx comic book, I’d be very interested in reading it.

The thing that really makes the whole book work is Carmen as a character. She’s the daughter of Cuban immigrants, a woman trying to break into an all male industry, and she’s got another secret that makes her feel like an outsider. All of these factors drew Carmen to comic book superheroes in the first place, but she’s also just a fan as well as a writer with a natural instinct for what makes a compelling character. This is as much a story about a young woman struggling to make her dreams come true as it is a murder mystery, and I very much cared about what happened with Carmen. Since there is no shortage of stories of how various comic book creators were cheated out of credit and money over the years, I was sometimes more worried that Carmen might never get her rightful recognition then I was that she wouldn’t find the killer.

It’s a quality mystery novel as well as a love letter to comic books, but even if you don’t care about superheroes, I think a lot of readers would find the story of a young woman trying to become who she’s meant to be in ‘70s New York enjoyable as well.
Profile Image for Noah.
210 reviews80 followers
June 6, 2023
It’d be easy to say that this is a simple mystery book about comics and the toxic industry that they’re created in, but I also like to think that it’s about fandom in general. Most importantly how comic books have always been seen as a safe space for lonely men, but how those same men make women in “nerd spaces” feel unwelcome and unsafe. As a mystery I think this was pretty okay, it doesn’t really fly off the page until about 70%, but after that we’re golden, Pony Boy. Though I did find it hard to care about Carmen solving the mystery because the person who the whole mystery revolves around was really (really, really) scummy. I kept wondering, “do we need to figure this one out, maybe we can ignore this one?” I mostly liked the discussion of how dangerous “nice guys” can be, as illustrated here:

“You have one mildly polite conversation with a guy, throw him a casual smile or laugh at his joke, and suddenly he’s waiting outside your door with flowers, wondering about seating arrangements at the wedding.”

Side note; sometimes the end of the chapter would end illustrated like a comic book page which is all nice and good, but my kindle isn’t the best format for a comic… long story short, best believe I was squinting and using my magnifying glass to read the tiny text. Anyway, good book.

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Profile Image for Kellye.
Author 7 books888 followers
June 18, 2021
Ooh. Am I the first review? So happy to get my hands on a copy of this book. It's the perfect blend of twisty mystery, social commentary and an inside peek at the comic book industry in the 70s. It also has a really cool feature of having actual pages from the Lynx comicbook that's at the center of the mystery. Carmen is such an amazing character. Hope we see her and this world again.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
498 reviews849 followers
June 29, 2023
My introduction to the fiction of Alex Segura is Secret Identity. Published in 2022, this alternate history of the comic book industry displayed the pulse that I felt Michael Chabon's lauded The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay did not. It centers on Carmen Valdez, a young, queer Cuban American secretary assistant to a cheap comic book publisher in New York City of 1975 who turns amateur sleuth when her writing partner is murdered. Sounds fantastic. The book contains delightful (black & white) panels of the comic book that Valdez has written but as much as I wanted to love it, my attention waned and I barely finished it.

What I Liked:

+ Queer, Cuban American female protagonist Carmen Valdez (we are not related) born and raised in Miami and transposed to New York. We're certain to see the comic book industry and detecting from a different perspective with her as our protagonist and I felt we did.

+ Through page 123/352, the novel is about the creative process, as Valdez grudgingly agrees to help a sheepish co-worker at “Triumph Comics” named Harvey Stern write a script for the new book their boss has tasked him with.

+ Panels of the book Valdez & Stern write, a variation on Marvel's The Cat which they call The Lethal Lynx (revised by their boss to the man-friendlier The Legendary Lynx) are dynamite. The artwork is by Sandy Jarrell and lettering by Taylor Esposito.

What I Disliked:

- Telling instead of showing. Segura's previous work has been in comic books, and his commission to write Poe Dameron: Free Fall for Disney Lucasfilm Press was targeted at the Young Adult market. Those habits bleed into his first adult novel, which spells everything out. We're told what Carmen is thinking and what this, that or the other mean at every turn. This is adult subject matter delivered in very juvenile prose. Here's an example:

Marion nodded. Her smile was fake now, too, as if she felt the need to parry. Why couldn't she just befriend this woman, Carmen wondered. Why did she have to instantly assume the worst--that she was some bitter ex-flame of Harvey's? And what did it matter if she was? Carmen didn't care for Harvey that way. Didn't see him like that. Had it been any other day, Carmen would've jumped for joy at the sight of another woman in her profession, someone she could share experiences with and maybe learn something from. But not today. No. Now she just wanted to go home, to lie in her tiny bed in the dark and stare at the ceiling until it was time to do something else.

Maybe this type of writing is appropriate for New Adult (18-25) fiction? I didn't get a warning label.

- The mystery element feels superficial. Segura's heart seems to be in the comic book industry of the 1970s and the creative process. There was a great novel here about big business, office politics and a visionary who does an end-run around management in the pursuit of invention. The detective material is shaky. Valdez commits a cardinal sin in detective fiction by ultimately telling the cops everything she knows. Private dicks just cannot do that.

- Carmen is an idiot. For the sake of plot, she agrees to collaborate with a desperate male co-worker who's kind of "failed up" in their industry, allowing him to receive full credit on The Legendary Lynx, which she writes and he polishes. Carmen agrees to this arrangement because she’s hungry for her break and their boss refuses to let her pitch scripts, but even for someone new to the adult world, it demonstrates a considerable lack of critical thinking skills.

- In addition to being an idiot, Carmen does something I notice female protagonists do a lot in fiction and that's apologize. As an secretary assistant, she demonstrates herself to be professional, assertive and diligent, running the editorial department for her obtuse and creatively bankrupt boss. This need to over-apologize felt like it belonged to a different character, certainly not a strong protagonist. If nothing else, it's repetitive. Did the novel need every one of those "sorry"s? I didn't feel like it did. It's one of those words like "Thanks" that often is taking up space on a page.

I'm going to abstain from rating Secret Identity because my suspicion is that the book is really meant for a New Adult market. It recently won the Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the Mystery/ Thriller category, but I would recommend this for younger readers or those interested in fiction with a comic book writing backdrop. Mystery fans, not so much.

Here's a dissenting, five-star review from a hugely popular reviewer on Goodreads!

Meredith (Slowly Catching Up)'s Reviews > Secret Identity
Profile Image for Alafair Burke.
Author 60 books4,387 followers
November 2, 2021
You didn't know that you needed a book set in the 1970s New York City comic book world until Alex Segura wrote it. Bold, fresh, and daring.
Profile Image for Joe Kucharski.
199 reviews7 followers
February 7, 2022
Secret Identity draws up a murder mystery in the world of comic book publishing. Although such fan-hallowed bullpens are, in all actually, a mundane yet stressful industry, it is one ripe for imaginative settings and author Alex Segura jumps on in. The business is also one that probably has not been fictionalized since Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), which similarly dramatizes the comic world with two characters hiding their own secrets. However, that is where all comparisons should stop as referencing Secret Identity to Kavalier & Clay is akin to measuring Rob Liefeld’s mis-proportioned handling of Captain America with Alan Moore’s seminal Watchmen. Secret Identity is a plodding mystery enveloped in a disappointing read with only significant comic-book namedrops to keep things semi-interesting.

Set in 1975, Carmen Valdez works for Triumph comics, a small contender in a market dominated by DC and Marvel. Carmen has an idea – the Lynx – but Carmen is a secretary, not a comic writer, a status her boss wishes to maintain. Her idea may not die but Harvey, an assistant editor and supporter of the Lynx, does. Drastically. Carmen, like the crimefighters she dreams of, sets out to find who killed Harvey, and why, while also struggling with an industry set against her to keep the Lynx alive.

Although aptly named, there are many struggles within Secret Identity. Contextually, Carmen Valdez struggles to be a woman in comics in the 1970s. She struggles to find a creative voice; one she must keep hidden to retain her job. Carmen struggles with the murder of her friend and co-worker and what this means for the life of her character. She struggles with her sexual identity.

Stylistically, the book presents as many issues as there are Justice Leaguers. Alex Segura struggles to maintain a setting of 1975; outside of the ongoing reminders of New York’s crime problem, Secret Identity could occur in 1985, 1995, or in some timeless, uncaring limbo. Other than the aforementioned victim, and Carmen’s boss Carlyle, Segura struggles to maintain the personalities of most secondary characters, all of whom have forgettable, interchangeable names. While the mystery is genuine, there is no priority; no threat. Segura’s matter-of-fact writing style prohibits any thrills and all but stops the ticking clock in the race for a solution.

Carmen is an interesting character, and one the reader wants to see succeed in her work, in her life, and with her love. Carmen is also handed an incredible convenience in her love for comics. She owns comics featuring the first appearance of Galactus (Fantastic Four #48), Flash #163 (where the Scarlet Speedster implores help from the reader of the comic), and Batman’s return-to-relevance post Adam West (Detective Comics #395). This is not entirely impossible but in a pre-comicbook shop 1975, rather improbable. To digress, this is one of the few, totally fun steps in a mostly bland march.

Other than those classics? Jim Starlin’s work on Warlock was mentioned but Segura confusingly goes all cricket silent with any other contemporary-for-the-time shout outs. In 1975 alone, comics saw the debut of Moon Knight; a new Green Goblin (the original’s son) terrorized Spider-Man; Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson continued to generate weird, sophisticated horror in Swamp Thing; and, oh yeah, an upstart writer named Chris Claremont introduced an all-new, all-different X-Men team with characters named Nightcrawler, Storm, and Wolverine.

Segura no doubt wants to world build but does so by shutting out any pre-existing IP that could otherwise be used as a historical mile marker, as well as a treat for dedicated fans. There are plenty of name drops – he tags The Eternals and Doom Patrol knowing their movie and streaming show would provide relatively-easy name recognition – but most references are openly-generic (descriptors include “as strong as Superman” and “goofy like Spider-Man”) and miss the “in-the-know” winks that made something like the pop-culture heavy Ready Player One such a fun read.

However, Secret Identity does contain a small treat within. Certain chapters end with comic pages “ripped” from Triumph’s Lethal Lynx series. Illustrated by comic artist Sandy Jarrell, the art is gorgeous black-and-white with Zip-a-Tone highlights and cinematic panel layouts. Unfortunately, and yet another infuriating point of contention, is that Lynx totally looks like an indie comic from the mid 1990’s: narration captions; inverted word balloons to white on black; tight focus points. None of these styles were in motion in a time when draftsmen such as Sal Buscema, George Tuska, and Dick Dillin ruled the bullpens.

Secret Identity succeeds in dreaming up a real and recognizable woman in comics – both behind and between the glossy cover. The book might also succeed as a long-desired love letter to comics themselves. As a compelling narrative and deep mystery, Secret Identity simply cannot keep pace with its four-color idols.

Many thanks to Flatiron Books for thinking of me and sending out the advanced copy. I truly wish this one had met my expectations.

This review and many others are also available - in beyond four colors - over @ Joe's. 'Nuff Said.
Profile Image for Dave.
633 reviews14 followers
July 16, 2023
Segura combines the story of a female Cuban lead character in NYC working in a fictional small comic book company in the mud-70’s with a murder mystery for an engaging tale all while throwing in pages of a female hero named The Lynx, who right now would make for a great comic series herself.
Profile Image for Elaine.
1,617 reviews1 follower
August 24, 2022
No lie, I was stoked to read Secret Identity when I read the premise.

I'm a comic book nerd, though I lean more toward Wonder Woman, X-Men, Wolverine, and the like, I was so excited to read about the golden age of comics with an interesting heroine as the main character.

Let's start with the GOOD:

The 1970s setting: This is New York City at its dirtiest, scariest, grittiest. It's seedy underbelly and surface; the birth of punk rock, the Ramones, CBGB, the sex workers hanging out at the corners at all hours of the day.

The behind the scenes look at how comics are created: It's not fun and games. It's work. Like acting. Like filmmaking. A lot of work, a lot of hassle, a lot of underpaid staff and writers. Fans only get to see and enjoy the final product when we have it in our grubby hands, but it takes many, many revisions before we get the hard copy.

The comic book sequences: The best part of the book.

The mystery: Nothing sparks my interest than wrapping a mystery in a narrative. I always enjoy a plucky hero/heroine and going along for the ride in solving the case.


You know how I can tell the author is male?

Because he describes, talks about, ruminates incessantly on how hot Carmen Valdez is. Constantly.

Carmen talks about her hot she is. Her only female friend in the industry is hot. Her former lover is.

She's so SMOKING the detective in charge of the case mentions it. Several times. Because the detective is not hot.

I wonder if this desperate need to write hot female leads is a genetic defect of the Y chromosome in some male writers. Or maybe it speaks to their own Freudian issues.

Second, Carmen wants validation as a female comic book writer, but is unwilling to take credit until the very end, when she reaches her golden years.

I'm not sure why this is. Because she's modest and humble?

Not only is she a knockout (in her old age as well, I'm sure), she's also humble and gracious, like a stereotypical female seen through the male perspective.

The mystery was seriously lacking. I figured out whodunit when the perp walked onto the page.

I didn't care about why he did it or who else was involved because I didn't care about the characters.

There was no urgency, no suspense, no people to really root for, not even Carmen. I liked her ambition and her talent, but I didn't like her, nor did I dislike her.

The writing was mostly good, but repetitive, not including the Carmen is hot lines, but there were lines in the vein of, "Carmen thought she should go to the club. Maybe it would be a good idea, she thought."

Of course Carmen thought that. Why does it have to be spelled out for us again?

This was a disappointing read.

It felt like the author wanted to write about an empowering female but the tone and vibe of the writing and story made this the complete opposite.
Profile Image for Darinda.
8,289 reviews151 followers
July 24, 2022
A 1970s mystery in the comic book industry. A woman helps create a female superhero, but her involvement is kept secret. When her colleague is murdered, she is left wondering what happened, and she has no proof that she created the comic.

Secret Identity is a character driven mystery. Carmen wanted to create comics, and took a questionable offer from a colleague. She created a new comic superhero, but her name wasn’t on it. When her colleague was murdered, Carmen no longer has a connection to the comic.

Noir fiction for comic book fans. Secret Identity is a unique and gritty novel. The characters did not capture my attention as much as I would have liked, but the 1970s New York setting was fantastic.

I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Robert.
1,598 reviews107 followers
August 15, 2022
Fun! Carmen Valdez is an engaging protagonist acting as an outsider in several senses as she navigates the world of working in comics in dirty mid-1970s New York City (think Taxi Driver-style dirty).

No, I was talking to the reader. Off you go now, Bob.

Segura clearly loves the medium of comics and even the most casual of fans will pick up on his mentions of stalwarts like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, while those who are deeper into the lore will pick up on the Easter Eggs and delight in the warts and all portrayal of how their favourite characters were created and how the publishing house "bullpens" and the publication process worked in practical terms in those intensely analog times.

Would I like to see a film adaptation starring Eiza Gonzalez as Carmen? No secret that my answer is yes!

Some of the predictable conventions of mystery thrillers as well as some fairly anachronistic language for the '70s* keeps me from the full five stars but I would definitely be done for, if not a sequel, at least another twisty-turny novel set in the world of historic comics publishing at the fictional Triumph comics as it battles to eke its way out alongside the "Big Boys" of Marvel and DC.

*Just one quick example: I'm pretty sure outside of MIT very very few individuals in the 1970s would have referred to their thought processes as "algorithms"
Profile Image for Bandit.
4,604 reviews463 followers
March 24, 2022
I love comic books. I love books about comic books. One of my all-time favorites novels is about comics. I even read and enjoy nonfiction about comics. So yeah, the appeal here was natural and instantaneous.
Of course, it’s about more than just comics, this is a proper murder mystery. Its protagonist, a Cuban-American Florida native who follows her passion all the way to NYC, works as a secretary to a third-rate comic publisher and dreams of writing her own comics.
It remains a dream because in the 70s people in general and comic industry in particular were nowhere near as woke as now and the opportunities for women remained limited. And then she gets a chance, to co-create a story, to get her words out there if not her name. And then that chance gets brutally snatched away from her, her colleague is found dead, and she decides to emulate her comic counterpart Lynx and find out what happened.
Is it fun? Most definitely. Did the author do his research? You bet your superhero tights he did. New York City of the 70s is brought to vivid life, dangerous and dirty and loud. The comic book industry also gets a thoroughly credible realistic representation.
But the rest of the book is just ok. Perfectly decent but somehow just ok. The writing is fairly flat. Serviceable but nothing special. And the characters, also well realized, don’t exactly reach from the page and grab you.
The protagonist is a lesbian Latina and a woman striving to go through the glass ceiling in a male dominated industry, so the author has a lot of woke and PC-ready ideas to play with. But it’s just…well, it’s no Kavalier and Clay.
To rate it just as a novel, it would have been average, middle of the road sort of thing. But for comic fans, there’s just too much here to nerd out over, so it definitely elevates the reading experience. And so, user mileage will vary.
Profile Image for Kayleigh.
36 reviews
March 30, 2022
I won an advance copy of this book in a Goodreads giveaway (first time I've won in 10 years! Thank you).

I was excited for a noir mystery and a dive into a world I'm not terribly familiar with (1970s comic books), but so much of the writing and story fell flat or was straight up men-writing-women bullsh*t.

Like this, right out of the gate on page 12: "Carmen wasn't dense. She saw how men looked at her. More importantly, she understood how men looked at her--trim and fit, with sleek, dark brown hair that fell to her shoulders and a pair of feral eyes that seemed to amplify a sharp, sly grin. The kind of cool, distant beauty and presence that could be both mysterious and warm at once. She'd heard variations of the theme from too many dudes, and it never cased to bore her." BARF! And then a few paragraphs later ON THE SAME PAGE: "Carmen was certain he'd sleep with her if she let him. Most men would fall into that category." Uggggggghhhhh this is not how working women go about our days.

Some frustrating things were small but really stuck out to me, like how the cop duo is introduced: "A stocky older black woman followed by a tall, twentysomething uniformed officer." Why are we told the race and gender of the Black woman officer, and neither of those details about the other one? Because white and male is "normal" and we only need to know if a character is departing from the norm? Come on.

And how many times is a police officer questioning a witness or suspect going to talk about how pretty that person is? In almost every single conversation between the one cop who plays any role in the story (the stocky older black woman) and Carmen, the cop tells Carmen how pretty she is. It's bizarre.

Moving on: Carmen supposedly cares about her murdered coworker and is desperate to find out what happened to him, yet she won't tell the cop, whom she thinks is perfectly competent and above-board, anything, and there is zero explanation of why. Is she afraid of cops? Does something in her past, her family history, or in the news make her wary of them, convinced they'll be against her no matter what? Does she or her family have immigration concerns? So much of the story relies on Carmen trying to hide the truth from the cops, and for no apparent reason.

About half of the cloak and dagger/suspense stuff ends up feeling either pointless, confusing, or simply unsatisfying. By the time things in the mystery start coming together, there are things that are clearly meant to be revelations but that fail to actually click. I read through all the final drama (about the last 100 pages) in one sitting, and my only reaction to most of it was "well, duh" or "wait, what?" For all the build up we end up with very little clarity, but our main character proceeds as though as all been revealed. I don't know, maybe there is some small detail I missed, some connection I was supposed to make that would render the final resolution mindblowing, but I don't think so.

And the entire epilogue chapter could have been a paragraph.

I really don't like being mean about a person's writing, and I think this book has the potential to be a whole lot better. I just also really hate seeing BS tropes perpetuated.
Profile Image for Skip.
3,345 reviews411 followers
April 10, 2022
A book about the waning glory days of comic books. It's New York City in 1975, and Cuban-American Carmen Valdez is trying to break the glass ceiling, succeeding in the industry as a woman. She has settled for working as a secretary for the publisher of Triumph Comics, who prefers to buy the work from male has-beens than give her a chance. When a drunk colleague asks her to help him meet a deadline, Carmen shares her stories about the Lethal/Legendary Lynx, who is fed up with the status quo (like Carmen.) While Harvey promises we will share credit, he is killed before she can get her recognition and the publisher hires a hack to continue the series. Fortunately, the illustrator smells a rat and tries to help even as a suspicious detective senses Carmen is hiding something about Harvey's death. Unfortunately, I did not really connect with the characters in this one.
Profile Image for Jill.
1,188 reviews1,689 followers
February 21, 2022
First, a full confession: I became an early reader of Secret Identity on a whim, not at all sure I would be the right reader for the book. This was, after all, a novel about comic books and how interesting could the topic really be for a serious reader? Especially a reader who can only remember reading Archie comics and Betty and Veronica as a child?

Well, let me tell you something: it only took a few pages to get me hooked. By the time I was half-way through, I couldn’t turn pages fast enough. This author, who wrote a number of comic books himself, knows the inner bones of the comic book business. And it reveals itself in every word he writes.

The book showcases Carmen Valdez, who cramped childhood room was loaded with boxes of comic books because “she had to be become someone else to survive.” She is an assistant to the chief honcho at Triumph Comics in the mid-1970s, when women, with a few notable exceptions, were shut out from writing for comic books. And Carmen is also a mostly closeted lesbian, her own secret identity at a time when the LGBTQ movement was still years away.

When her friend Harvey Stern, a lanky and ambitious junior editor, invites her to collaborate with him to pitch a new series, she is ecstatic that her long-time dream of being a writer may actually be realized – first as a ghostwriter and later, stepping into the spotlight. Together, mainly with Carmen’s insights and talent, they create a female superhero called the Legendary Lynx. She is the biggest hit in Triumph Comics meager collection – and then Harvey is murdered.

Secret Identity functions well on so many levels. It gives readers a gripping look at the inner workings of comic book companies, who depend on underpaid and overly ambitious freelancers to create a masterwork. It succeeds mightily in exploring the minefields that women – particularly gay women – faced in the 1970s in trying to achieve – well, anything. It reveals the sheer joy of creating a piece of mythology – not just “another grown, tough perfect hero-man – another steel-jawed Superman” but a character with real-world problems, empowering teens to imagine themselves as the hero. And it truly captures New York at its grimy, sinewy and electrifying best – and worst. Also, it’s interspersed with fantastic actual comics from artist Sandy Jarrell – oh, and the prose? Well-paced and mesmerizing.

If I had one issue with the novel, it’s that very early on, I believed Harvey Stern was not Carmen’s friend but an over-striving people-user. It was hard for me to understand why Carmen did not reach the same conclusion and why she insisted on referring to him as a good friend and a nice person. Her character is too smart for that self-deception.

But this is a trifle in the grand scheme of things. My rating is 4.5. I received a free ARC of Secret Identity from Macmillan in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Chris.
246 reviews59 followers
May 3, 2022
Secret Identity is a literary mystery that takes place in the world of the comic book industry in 1975 New York. Carmen Valdez is a 20-somethimg assistant to the the head of Triumph Comics who has loved superheroes and dreamed of writing comics since her childhood in Miami. She thinks with this job she can show her boss that she' can cut it as a writer. He won't hear of it, however, because he doesn't think a woman can be a good writer of comics.

So when Harvey Stern makes her a proposal that they collaborate and only use his name until it's the right time to reveal Carmen as co-writer, she reluctantly agrees.

After working together, Harvey gets a weird phone call and rushes out, acting weird. When Harvey doesn't show up for work a few days later, Carmen goes to his place and finds him dead. The police think she's a likely suspect, so she goes on a search to find out what happened to Harvey. When another attack happens on another member of the industry, Carmen realizes she's in danger too. Will she get to solve the case, or will she end up the killer's next victim?

This was a very enjoyable read! I liked Carmen and her roommate Molly. The plotting was a little slow at first, but once I got settled in, it wasn't an issue. I also really liked the bits of the Lynx comic books, I thought it was a terrific addition to the reading experience. The world building was one of the best parts of this book. I felt like I was right there with Carmen in New York, experiencing the goings on of the city and the comic book industry in 1975. If you're a comic book fan or a mystery lover, this is the book for you!

My thanks to Flatiron Books, author Alex Segura, and NetGalley for gifting me a digital copy of this book. My opinions are my own.
Profile Image for Jamie Canaves.
860 reviews273 followers
November 15, 2021
I have been treating myself, when I can, to 2022 galleys of books I am so excited for. I recently curled up with Secret Identity by Alex Segura, and I’m so glad that I did. This may be the only crime book I’ve ever hugged to my chest when I finished reading it. This is a murder-mystery with the feeling of noir mixed with the hopeful feeling of comics. But the heart of this book is a young woman trying to make it in a world deliberately not designed for her.

Cuban American Carmen Valdez moved from her home in Miami to NY in the 1970s to work in the comic book industry. Her goal is to write super hero comics like the ones she grew up loving. And so she’s an assistant at Triumph Comics, which is trying to stay afloat in a time before the comic industry we know now of blockbuster films. Between living in a hard city like NY with no one but a roommate to call a friend, working in a male dominated industry set to stay that way, not speaking to her parents back home, and a former lover showing up out of the blue, Carmen’s life is already complicated. Then she gets the chance to write that comic she’s dreamed of, with her name on it, only to have it dashed away and find the man who was helping her murdered. With a cop certain Carmen is lying about something–she is!–and her dream comic in someone else’s creative hands, she pushes through in the hopes of finding out who murdered her colleague and what is really happening to the comic industry around her.

Segura’s passion for the mystery genre and comic book industry shines through, and Carmen is a wonderful character trying her best to get through difficult situations with way more questions than answers with a deep down never-give-up spirit that always propels her forward. Bonus: pages from the fictional comic at the heart of the book are inserted throughout!

(TW memory of brief partner abuse/ alcoholism, not MC/ suicide off page, detail)

--from Book Riot's Unusual Suspects newsletter: https://link.bookriot.com/view/56a820...
Profile Image for Megan Collins.
Author 4 books1,186 followers
February 7, 2022
SECRET IDENTITY is a noir murder mystery that takes place in the 1970s NYC comic book industry, and it is SO MUCH FUN. The book’s heroine, Carmen, is easy to root for, as she’s a strong character who’s often overlooked and undervalued in her potential contributions to the publisher where she works as an assistant. Her journey toward finding—and finally sharing—her voice is exciting and satisfying, as is the mystery at the center of the book. I read this in less than 24 hours, completely captivated by the propulsive plot and smart, riveting writing.
Profile Image for Sandra Hoover.
1,221 reviews201 followers
March 12, 2022
Secret Identity by Alex Segura is a great introduction into the world of comics in the 1970's as they're expertly woven into this fictional story of mayhem and murder. The end result is a beautifully rendered combo of work with compelling, larger than life characters and a big side serving of mystery and action. Segura's obvious knowledge of the comic industry is evident in the creative writing, and his expertise in delivering a highly entertaining murder mystery will keep readers burning through pages.

Carmen Valdez works as an assistant to the head honcho of Triumph Comics with days spent copying scripts and carrying coffee and lunch to her boss. But Carmen secretly dreams of writing her own comic script about a female super hero that she's secretly been drawing for years. When she's approached by a junior writer about co-writing a new comic book starring Carmen's superwoman, she jumps at the chance even though she has to keep her identity secret. Her boss will never accept it from her. She agrees knowing it's her only shot of breathing life into her creation the Lethal Lynx. The script turns into a roaring success, but when an unforeseen tragedy strikes her co-worker, Carmen is left empty handed with someone else's name on her work. She can't step forward and claim the work now, can she? Just when she thinks it can't get much worse, a shadow from her past comes calling, and Carmen is juggling secrets.

While I found the mystery intriguing, Secret Identity is character driven and as the story unfolds through Carmen's point of view, I believe readers will find her quite easy to cheer on. Carmen is tough - a girl living alone in 1970's New York City, struggling with her own sexual identity in a misogynistic work atmosphere where every day is an all-out brawl when all she wants is to be recognized for her own talent. I have to admit my favorite part of Secret Identity surprised me - actually shocked me as I'm not a big comic book fan. However, the comic scenes of the Lynx which are inserted between chapters of this book are out of this world! The artwork is excellent, and the comic theme actually mirrors Carmen's own life journey seeking truth, identity and justice. These sequences are a fantastic addition to this book and extremely well done.

Secret Identity is a gritty, unique story with a perfect marriage of noir fiction and comics including an up close and personal look at the comic book industry at the time - one that depended on eager freelancers for the hard work and creativity necessary to produce a winner. Seguar does a great job handling controversial themes of sexual identity, gender roles and misogynistic attitudes in the workplace and the difficulty for women, especially queer women, to ever achieve success. The setting is utterly fascinating - actually playing the role of a major character - the best and worst of New York City with all its tenacity, bright lights, dark shadows, grimy districts and still 100 % intoxicating. I found Secret Identity to be well paced and hard to put down. Highly recommended to fans of mystery, noir fiction and comic books. Segura has gifted readers with the perfect blend!
Special thanks to Flatiron Books for an arc of this book and tour invitation.
Reviewed at: Cross My Heart Reviews
Profile Image for Michelle Richter.
Author 1 book37 followers
July 11, 2021
Absolutely loved this new page-turner from Alex Segura. An incredibly fast and involving read. There's a little something for everyone: mystery lovers, fans of classic comics, readers who loved Kavalier and Clay. And Segura makes great use of his professional experience and love of comics to sprinkle little Easter eggs throughout. But what really makes this book so stellar are the characters. Carmen Valdez is such an appealing hero, someone I almost wish I could hang out with. I was rooting for her all the way through to have her dreams come true and to solve the mysteries. And hoping too that some of my favorite supporting characters would escape unscathed. As a bonus, the comics throughout the novel were a really special extra touch that took the book to the next level.

Profile Image for Larry Fontenot.
594 reviews14 followers
April 21, 2022
I’m not sure what all the hullabaloo is about this book. I’ve not read any of Mr. Segura’s other work, but he appears to be a competent writer. The problem is that he appears to have attempted to write a novel in the style of a comic book. Given his background, it’s to be expected that the comic book industry portrayed would be authentic, and it does appear to be so. But Mr. Segura spends too much time name dropping all the well-known and obscure names of the industry. It’s as if Mr. Segura wants us to know that he is definitely in the know, that he has done his research. It’s excruciatingly puerile. And the name dropping doesn’t stop with comic history. Mr. Segura name drops music groups as if the heroine has never heard of them: Springsteen, Patti Smith, Television, Talking Heads. And he even mentions Stonewall, and John Cazale. It’s all a bit much. The historic background of NYC in 1975 and the inside story of the comic book business doesn’t have to feel so forced.

The relationship between Carmen and Katherine is flimsy and overly melodramatic, as is much of the plot. The possible relationship with Marion is more carefully constructed. Carmen appears outraged that the scripts were not revealed to be of her creation, when in fact that was exactly what Harvey had initially told her. The big lie? That Harvey was working on an assignment rather than just being prodded by Carlyle to pitch an idea. Yep, that a big lie.

The good thing about the book is the crime and the mystery and how it intertwines with the comic book facade. Although Carmen seems like so many heroes, running off without backup, she certainly is doggedly on the trail. Of course, the killer is fairly obvious after Harvey (supposedly) left a message to Carlyle. A quick name change doesn’t faze us; we knew it was this creep all along. But I like the action involved in the solving of the mystery. The tacked-on epilogue is really unnecessary except to reveal what is already revealed and to note Carmen’s intentions to acknowledge her role. But I also enjoyed the fact that Carmen seems like a character that really cares for her friends, her co-workers (the ones she doesn’t despise) and ultimately her family. She does honestly think she can contribute to the business and will do her best to do so.

Profile Image for Dwight Davis.
623 reviews33 followers
July 8, 2022
I mean, it’s compulsively readable. It is, ironically, entertaining in a popcorn movie kind of way, utterly forgettable, pedestrian but passable, just like the comic company it’s about.

It also went out of its way to be unbearably annoying. The worst thing about it is having a main character who is a lesbian written by a man who obviously writes everything through the male gaze (even if he does give an eye-roll inducing shoutout to Allison Bechdel’s graphic novels in the acknowledgements, we get it bud you’re an ally). Every female character is conventionally attractive and we know that because Segura reminds us every couple of pages. Segura also wants us to know that comics can be Art and that he is Very Smart and knows a lot about comics history. It often feels like you’re being cornered by a guy at a party who really wants to impress you by talking at you. I don’t know man I guess I just don’t find critiques of comics as mindless entertainment to be all that compelling coming from *checks notes* the writer of Archie Meets KISS. The overwhelming twitter feminist ally energy blended with the stereotypical boy’s club comic bullshit was just too much for me.

And none of that is to even get into how bad at consistency and characterization this guy is. None of these characters feel like the same people from chapter to chapter. They’re all over the map.

I mean look, it’s readable. I finished it in a few hours. It’ll get the job done as far as being mindless junk food. I just wish it knew it was mindless junk food instead of pretending it has anything progressive or interesting to say about art or gender.
Profile Image for Gigi.
Author 41 books1,258 followers
November 7, 2021
I knew a new mystery by Alex Segura would be good, but I didn't expect to fall in love with SECRET IDENTITY as much as I did. Turns out it didn't matter one bit that I'm not a big comic book fan. Segura draws in the reader expertly, and I was 100% invested in main character Carmen Valdez in the 1970s New York's comic scene. Brilliant characters, mystery, timing, and oh, what a perfect ending! Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Lukasz.
1,381 reviews222 followers
November 20, 2022

I grew up with comic books, and I still love them. I'm constantly on the lookout for adult novels inspired by comics. Secret Identity sounded like something I would enjoy. And I did. In a way.

It's the kind of book that's praised by "serious" critics and widely applauded. Sometimes I agree with these voices, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I'm torn, and that's the case here.

Secret Identity revolves around Carmen Valdes, a queer Cuban-American woman and a lifelong comic book fan who dreams of making it in the industry. The year is 1975, and she moves from Miami to New York to work as a secretary at the third-rate publisher Triumph Comics. The industry is dominated by male writers and assholes who hit on every woman.

Her colleague Harvey Stern needs help launching Triumph's first female superhero series and asks Carmen to co-write it with him, but anonymously. She agrees because the temptation is too high. The Legendary Linx, created by the duo, becomes a huge success because it's different. Before the world has a chance to learn about Carmen's involvement in the project, things take a tragic turn. First, Carmen starts to suspect she was used. Then, Harvey is found murdered in his apartment.

Carmen investigates Harvey's murder to figure out what happened to her friend and to reclaim this character that means so much to her. The narrative contains actual comic book sequences from The Legendary Linx comic, drawn by comic book legend Sandy Jarrell, with letters by Taylor Esposito.

It's clear Segura loves comic books and has done a lot of research. He plays with the narrative, adding quirky characters who become Carmen's friends, rivals, or potential love interests. At first, the mystery is indeed mysterious, but soon it becomes quite predictable.

As a lead character, Carmen lacks charisma. I understand that the industry in 1975 was challenging for newcomers, especially women with no connections. Getting a foothold in the industry and finding success (and money) bordered on an impossibility. Unlike her boss, Carmen has a true passion for comics. She's a real nerd, and I respect that. Unfortunately, Carmen also lacks agenda and often acts mindlessly. Of course, I can't tell you everything, but the book would be much shorter if Carmen only communicated effectively with people and trusted those she should.

I understand that she comes from an unprivileged background, is vulnerable, and has to fight for things others get through connections. But I always have difficulty connecting with characters who lack direction or a willingness to fight for themselves. Sure, the reality of the business in 1975 was different, and the story and its protagonist are plausible. High praise for that. Still, I can't say I liked Carmen as the main character. Not all the time.

On the other hand, the nods to the world of comics are fun, especially because Segura doesn't try to explain things, he just puts them in the background, and it works. Some readers will have fun deciphering it, and others will just see it as background. Secret Identity finds a balance between character work, murder mystery, personal drama, and love for comics. However, it works against it in a way. Secret Identity is neither a fast-paced noir nor a superhero novel or history lesson.

As a result, the pacing is sometimes off. Readers will read the book for different aspects of the story, and I'm not sure anyone will be completely satisfied. I enjoyed Secret Identity and appreciate that it pushes the boundaries of the genre. It's a good, well-thought-out book, just not as suspenseful as I, a genre reader, had hoped it would be.
Profile Image for LAPL Reads.
557 reviews173 followers
June 6, 2022
In 1975, the comic book industry is struggling. It has survived, mostly, Frederic Wertham’s criticisms and claims regarding a causal relationship between reading comics and becoming a juvenile delinquent in Seduction of the Innocent. But there have been casualties. Readership is down. Publishers are closing. Writers and artists are left scrambling for available positions. And yet, amazing things are happening in the industry. Marvel has created, and is developing, characters that will define the industry in future decades. Artists like Jack Kirby, who will work at both DC and Marvel and become one of the most celebrated comic artists in history, is actively defining what can be done in the medium. It is the “Bronze Age” of comic history, decades before comics become a cultural juggernaut and a source for every form of entertainment possible. It is in this world that Alex Segura places his new novel, Secret Identity.

Carmen Valdez is a young, Latinx woman, originally from Miami, who has moved to New York City with the dream of working in comics. Ultimately, she wants to be a writer, but she knows she has to “pay her dues.” So she has taken the job of Jeffrey Carlyle’s secretary. Carlyle is the owner and editor-in-chief for Triumph Comics, a company several steps below industry leaders DC and Marvel. Triumph publishes comics that are solid but nothing special. And Carmen is sure, given the chance, she could provide the ideas necessary to provide Triumph with its first hit comic. So when her co-worker Harvey Stern, a writer with Triumph, asks for her input on a new project, Carmen jumps at the chance. The two of them create The Lethal Lynx, Triumph’s first female superhero. Harvey submits the concept and it is immediately accepted, but Carmen’s name is missing. Harvey promises he will let Carlyle know she worked on the project “when the time is right.”

Just as Carmen predicted, The Lethal Lynx becomes Triumph’s highest selling comic overnight. What Carmen didn’t predict was Harvey being found murdered in his apartment. No one has any idea why he was killed, but Carmen is determined to find out.

Segura, himself a comic book writer, deftly captures the atmosphere of comics in the mid-70s, a niche interest on the verge of becoming a global obsession in just a few decades. This includes the “old boy” network that pervaded the publishers and the rampant and blatant misogyny that permeated both the offices where comics were created and the pages they produced.

Segura also paints a vivid picture of an industry trying desperately to decide who and what it is. Are the writers and artists that produce the monthly books hacks or artists? Is their product disposable ephemera or something more substantial? These are questions for which we now have, decades later, answers. But Segura does an admirable job of exploring the fears, concerns, and resignation of his characters regarding their chosen field.

In addition to the comic book industry, Segura does a marvelous job of capturing 70s New York City, describing perfectly how it was simultaneously an inspiration for dreams and nightmares, dangerously teetering on the brink of financial ruin. The mystery Segura presents is top notch with a number of potential suspects and readers will root for Carmen as she doggedly attempts to identify Harvey’s killer, putting herself in danger in the process.

Part history of the comic book industry, part noir influenced murder mystery, and part coming of age story, Secret Identity is a genre bending/blending novel that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Be sure to read an interview with Alex Segura.

Daryl M., Librarian, West Valley Regional Branch Library
Profile Image for Michael Hicks.
Author 36 books441 followers
February 1, 2022
Carmen Valdez has always wanted to work in comics. Her job as secretary to the owner of Triumph Comics in 1975 New York doesn't quite cut it, though - she wants to write her own book, create her own characters, but her boss won't allow it. When Harvey Stern approaches her to collaborate on a new character he's pitching, she can't resist, even if it means her name won't appear in the credits. Soon after The Legendary Lynx proves to be a runaway smash for Triumph, though, Carmen finds Harvey dead in his apartment, murdered. Driven by her own need for answers, and desperate to keep the Lynx in action, Carmen tries to figure out who killed Harvey - before they come for her next.

Secret Identity is a fantastic, slow-burn noir fueled by Alex Segura's love of comics and insider knowledge. As a comic book scribe himself, as well as the Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Oni Press, with prior experience working at Archie Comics and DC Comics, Segura gives us an incredibly authentic-feeling look at the Triumph Comics bullpen, dropping tidbits of info, comic book lore, and recognizable names from that era of the medium's history.

The explorations into the nitty-gritty of making a comic book are where Secret Identity absolutely shines. I could have, and eagerly would have, spent hours more being a fly on the wall to Carmen and Harvey's brainstorming sessions as they developed the Lynx, discussed her background and motivations, and developed her cadre of villains. Segura infuses so much creative energy into these moments that I found myself wishing we had an actual Lynx comic I could turn to next, and the author's passion for that medium made me, several times, want to set this book aside and dive into my own backlog of comics. That's not a knock on this book at all, though! Rather, I wanted to share in that enthusiasm as a fellow comic book lover, to study and absorb the artwork, and delve again into what makes that medium so damn special.

As far as the mystery goes, that's not too shabby either. Segura mines the '70s comic publishing era for all its worth, slowly revealing the shadier aspects of the comic book world as it was while Carmen susses out possible motivations in her quest to identify Harvey's killer. Segura chums the water with plenty of red herrings, complicating Carmen's life at regular intervals until its anyone's guess how everything is going to shake out and reveal who did what, and why.
Profile Image for Bill.
100 reviews10 followers
April 12, 2022
I was really battling over whether I should give this book three stars or two. That, to me, is a real dividing line. And that’s why I have to brand Secret Identity with two stars. Setting this book in New York’s mid-'70s comic book industry sure is original. Setting a book in New York itself, however, is not original. I’ve read so many books about people coming of age in New York that I feel like I’m going to start tawking wit a Big Apple accent. I think the only place more popular than New York for a novel setting in is the South. And that’s a whole bunch of different states! New York captures first place all by itself!
The plot moves along with stops and starts and spends a lot of time introducing throwaway characters. Carmen, the story's protagonist, comes to the Apple from Florida (that’s right… The South!), leaving behind a relationship with a married woman who’s a bit of a whackadoo. Then said whackadoo follows Carmen right to NYC! She slithers around the edges of the story and then just slinks away about three/quarters of the way through because her character doesn't have anything to do and ends up being a complete waste of the reader's time.
The biggest thorn in the foot of this story is the driving plot-point. Carmen works for a fictional comic book company where she plays a big part in the creation of the Lynx, a genre-busting superhero! It’s up to the author to convince the reader that this fictional character can go up against the best of real ‘70s comics, like… I guess the X-Men? That’s a trap a lot of books fall into when they create a fictional artist and thrust them into the real world. David Mitchell tried to pull this off in Utopia Avenue, a story about a fictional rock band in the real ‘60s music scene. He just couldn’t convince me that his band and their songs would be as big as, say, Jimi Hendrix. That’s where Secret Identity author Alex Segura loses me. There are bits and pieces of the Lynk stories sprinkled throughout the book, but there’s certainly not enough to convince me that the Lynx would be ground-breaking enough to be a comic book legend. Instead we get a pretty dull story that ends up trying to be too many things at once. Is it a coming-of-age-in-the-big-city story? A story about the ‘70s comic book industry? A murder mystery whodunnit? Mr. Segura valiantly tries them all but just doesn’t quite make all the parts mesh together in a story that ends up feeling like a bit of a slog.

Great Stories About the Comics Industry Department
If Secret Identity's setting in the comic book industry of yesteryear is what drew you in to this book, then I highly recommend the "Funny Papers Trilogy" by Tom De Haven I wish that they were joined together in one volume but that's a small complaint for a story that takes the reader from 1920s newspaper cartoons (think The Yellow Kid) all the way through to the groovy '60s underground. I couldn't help but feel that Secret Identity was trying to reach the heights Mr. De Haven does in his mesmerizing tale of comics history, but just doesn't quite hit the mark.
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