Alex Segura’s Secret Identity tells the story of Carmen Valdez, a 1970s-era employee of second-rate comic book publisher Triumph Comics. Carmen loves comic books and would like to write them, but hasn’t found a way in, given the boys club atmosphere. She thinks she may have found a foothold when her colleague Harvey Stern suggests they collaborate on a new series. Carmen has lots of ideas built up over a lifetime as a comics fan and together she and Harvey create the Legendary Lynx – a superhero who sidesteps many of the pitfalls that have frustrated Carmen about other women comics characters (no skimpy outfits or silly backstory). Carmen is excited about a possible future in comics, even if her work is uncredited for now, but then Harvey is killed, having already submitted issues of The Legendary Lynx with only himself as the author. Carmen dives into investigating Harvey’s death, wondering whether he was the friend she thought he was and if she might be next.
My take: The book starts a bit slowly (in part because there are a lot of characters to introduce) and in the first section Segura feels a bit too fond of adjectives in some places (no need to describe someone as both tall and statuesque, we all know that statuesque just means “pretty and tall”) but these were small quibbles once we get into the main story, which is engaging and filled with interesting, well-rounded characters as well as a propulsive mystery to solve. I am not particularly a comics fan but the story of someone trying to engage with a field they are passionate about but that isn’t very welcoming to them really drew me in. Sometimes with amateur sleuths it can feel a bit unrealistic that they would put their own lives at risk to solve a mystery, but the challenges Carmen faces in her everyday life make her desire to solve Harvey’s murder (and maybe save her artistic creation in the process) feel understandable. The novel also has a real sense of place, with visits to CBGBs and mentions of the garbage strike making appearances.
There are pages of the Legendary Lynx comics interspersed throughout the book, and they really do help to move the plot forward in addition to being engaging in their own right, so I would recommend getting this one in hard copy rather than audiobook form if possible. How much I looked forward to these panels actually made me think that I should seek out more comic or graphic novels, so I would love to hear suggestions for those if anyone has them.