Joe LaBrava left the Secret Service behind and now takes very good and very compellingly described photos of some of the affecting and arresting Miami characters women who show off their breasts with a kind of pitiful bravery, men who show off their struts with the same His friend Maury, who acts as a sort of agent for his photography, ends up introducing him to Jean Shaw, a woman LaBrava previously knew only from her movies and from the burgeoning crush he had on her perennial bad girl characters A kind of romance begins between LaBrava and Jean, with him never knowing for sure how many of her lines to him are lines from her movies, but all the while, hick former cop Richard Nobles and lithe exotic dancer Cundo Rey are working on getting themselves some money.
Nobles is another slight drag on the novel Cundo Rey, with his blend of competence and deference and shrugging off of his dancing career, is compelling but the real problem is just that the plot has too much machinery in it That may be deliberate it s specifically meant to evoke the overdone plots of Jean s old movies but it still bogs down the action Simplifying the scheme, or at least reducing Nobles s presence and how closely we follow him throughout the book, would add to the meta noir sharpness Leonard has working here, with the femme fatales and good girls, the men getting played, all the greed, and the fading setting.
But the characterization is strong, and the essential hook of LaBrava meeting a former movie star who seems to be stuck in the plot of one of her movies, is a good and powerful one, and it makes for a great ending with a terrific and slightly unnerving punchline view spoiler Jean s orchestration of the plot probably won t come as much of a surprise to anyone, but her getting away with it, including Nobles s murder, might To quote this book s version of Harry Cohn, You mean the broad wins hide spoiler I bought this today at the Out of the Closet thrift store on Biscayne, and once I got home and opened it up to read, discovered that it s an autographed copy I m irrationally thrilled by this There s something so cool about finding out that even though I never managed to meet him, I now have a book with his signature in it I actually don t know why that s cool and exciting to me, I guess because Leonard s one of those writers I would ve liked to have met but obviously now I never will, and this seems like a decent consolation Also cool and exciting reading an El Leonard novel set in Miami now that I live here and know where everything is AND, also awesome one of this book s early scenes is set in a detox and features a hot, tough social servicey, substance abuse counselor type chick wow So I guess I ll quit with this I just started it non review and get back to reading This is a really fun one with a portrait of the artist twist a photographer protagonist who, like the author, is enchanted by the colorful characters of super seedy early eighties Miami Beach It s impossible to read LaBrava lurking around South Beach s crumbling deco hotels in his pineapple print shirt, documenting its ancient Jewish ladies and marielitos, without imagining Leonard doing the same thing with his notebook instead of a Leica.
Not perfectly polished, but never a dull moment and flawless in its inimitable atmosphere and style An awesome Miami novel with Leonard s trademark cast of characters that should be too inventive and bizarre to come off as human as they do, and a plot so enjoyable you don t care if it makes any sense One thing I love about Leonard is that his books aren t hard boiled at all and his tough guys are anything but cynical these novels are all love stories, so warm blooded they d be sappy if they weren t so damn cool.
El Leonard is dead Long live El Leonard El Leonard is one of my favorite writers, but my experience with his work is that it s either dynamite or dud With forty five novels and at least forty two short stories to his credit, not every one of Dutch s enterprises was going to be a success I ll never abandon Leonard because his dialogue is so good and he almost always offers a twist to his capers, but his 1983 novel LaBrava just didn t draw me in.
Published before El Leonard began sort of parodying El Leonard to great success with novels like Get Shorty, LaBrava appeared on paperback racks between Stick and Glitz when the author was still firmly operating in the territory of hardboiled pulp fiction She d Do Anything For A Man Even Get Him Killed promises the paperback cover Set entirely in seedy South Miami Beach, Leonard picks promising real estate and hangs a great handle on his protagonist, Joe LaBrava.
LaBrava is an ex Secret Service agent who developed a love of photography while engaged in surveillance work for the feds He quit his job and drifted down to south Florida, where his observational skill and ability to size up characters lent itself to documenting street life as a freelance photographer LaBrava lives and works out of the Della Robbia Hotel, a fading jewel owned and operated by his best friend, an eighty year old former bookie named Maurice Zola.
The photographer is dragged by Maurice to a county mental health center where one of the old man s friends has been interned after throwing a glass at a police car Instructed to take photos of Maurice s friend as a wakeup call for her to get help, LaBrava discovers the drunk is Jean Shaw, a fifty year old former silver screen siren who s hit the bottom of the barrel.
LaBrava has been smitten with Shaw since he saw her at the picture show as a boy He discovers that the former star is in trouble with a private security guard named Richard Nobles, a swamp rat engaged in a variety of dumb criminal schemes Abetting Nobles or maybe it s the other way around is an exotic dancer named Cundo Rey, one of Fidel Castro s marielitos who was released from a Cuban prison and shipped out to Florida to become Uncle Sam s headache.
The photographer and the movie star become lovers and in between watching and talking about old movies, LaBrava comes to Jean s aid when Nobles ensnares the actress in an extortion plot This being an El Leonard novel, nothing is what it appears to be One of the things I actually liked about LaBrava was how unremarkable all of the characters were Through most of the story, I had my doubts that LaBrava, Jean or Nobles could tie their own shoelaces, much less handle themselves in a rough situation.
That said, there were things that bugged me The novel shoots out of the gate with a lot of dialogue, a lot of mundane dialogue, and takes a while to add up to not a whole lot A blackmail scheme run by near idiots is not exactly a compelling plot The fake movie star Jean Shaw bored me While I could understand someone being smitten with Patricia Neal and being beside himself hanging out with Patricia Neal, Jean Shaw is a fabrication that just did not interest me in the least So many paragraphs are devoted to her fake roles and faux movies and none of it is as clever or as compelling as I think Leonard hoped it would be This is the first El Leonard novel I ve read where I didn t feel the need to stop reading and scribble one of his descriptions Whether you want to call it wit , panache or hot sauce , there s a noticable lack of it here LaBrava perks up with the appearance of a cosmetics peddler named Franny Kaufman, whose clientele of old Yiddish ladies in South Miami Beach puts her in the same milieu as LaBrava The two strike up a friendship that slowly becomes much than that, and while I never believed the protagonist s attraction to the fake movie star, the way Leonard describes Franny makes it impossible not to fall for her LaBrava checked his mail slot on the wall behind the registration desk Nothing Good He turned to see the girl coming across the lobby Weird hair it looked tribal the way it was almost flat on top, parted in the middle and frizzed way out on the sides Pretty girl though, behind big round tinted glasses She said, Hi You don t work here, do you Violet eyes Some freckles Smart looking Jewish girl.
I think I m in love I think Leonard might ve been too, and it s too bad that Franny doesn t figure into the plot.
Leonard admitted that when researching bail bondsmen for Rum Punch, he realized that the main character wasn t that guy, but a stewardess caught in the middle I had the same feeling here A Spring Song girl working the ruins of South Miami Beach sounds like someone who d get herself caught in the middle of something interesting A photographer and a fake movie star Not so much.
Have I finally read enough El that I guessed the twist, for once That is a good thing Not a bad thing Still couldn t guess how it ended, and that s classic El LaBrava said, Maury, who s crazy, you or me How do I know Maurice said Maybe both of us Don t ask me any hard ones I have read 11 El Leonard books so far and this one is the least favorite It lacked almost everything that makes him a hailed writer of this kind of books It wasnt enough well written hardcore story and it wasnt fun story with quirky characters like some of his other crime books He is a rare master of great dialogue and believable shady,low life characters Except LaBrava himself the other characters felt like a parody,vanilla versions of his other better books,characters.
This book show how useless yearly awards like Edgar award really is too LaBrava might have been the best american crime book of 1984 but it is not near the best El Leonard book in the 80s or let alone compared the great books he has written in 1990s 2000s Its a decent novel but he has written many better books that didnt win some lame award like Edgar Award.
It also shows he has improved as writer even his 70s,80s I have read his 1970s books they dont compare to post 1990 books of his He is great writer of any kind of field because of his prose,dialouge but this book is not the best example of that I dont want sound too critical of this book i rate it weak 3 stars because of his writing but i expected much better because of his record of strong books.
A while ago somewhere I don t know when I was watching a movie with a friend I fell in love with the actress She was playing a part that I could understand Neil Young, A Man Needs a Maid It took a chapter or two, after we re finally introduced to Jean Shaw and what she means to secret service agent come photographer Joe LaBrava, that Neil Young s song A Man Needs a Maid came to mind I m sure we all have that actress, or actor, who we ve seen and who in our youth we maybe fell a little bit in love with There might have come a point when that actress and the parts she plays have become nigh inseparable in our hearts and minds Of course, given today s fascination with celebrity and the constant vulture like circling of paparazzi the illusion that films provided is somewhat lost The mystery and magic of actors and actresses is shattered by the flash of the camera and the thunder of gossip across television screens and computer monitors A belief that is at least somewhat thematically related to LaBrava which, while being a crime thriller, is as much about the reality of of modern times shattering the illusions of the past as it about crime.
As a historical side note LaBrava, published in 1983, was written just 4 years after the area was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places 1979 and only 3 years after the Miami race riots and after some 25 years of population increases resulting from Castro s takeover in Cuba in 1959 To say it was an area in both deep economic and demographic flux is perhaps putting it mildly but I think it is worth noting It is perhaps interesting to note as well that two years later, in 1985, Miami Vice would take home four Emmies and would remain an example and monument to eighties New Wave culture for years to come The bright colors of Miami Vice stand in stark contrasted to faded glories described in LaBrava.
The above is important since Joe LaBrava lives in a hotel in Miami Beach owned by a former bookie named Maurice The vocal and somewhat cantankerous Maurice, like his hotel, is a product of better time the reader s link to Miami Beach s glamorous past Like Jean Shaw, the tired movie star of LaBrava s adolescent dreams, Maurice links into idea of romanticizing the past It is a theme directly contrasted by LaBrava s profession of photographer, as a man whose bread and butter has become immortalizing the present and who excels at capturing people in their truest state Indeed, we are even introduced a painter whose is attempting to painted the decaying architectural wonders of Miami Beach s architecture but who, after encountering LaBrava and his work, suddenly starts painting people Leonard pulls off the connection subtly then I describe there, but it remains that Leonard seems to be drawing a clear link to the importance of the here and now and the people rather then the places that they live in.
Indeed LaBrava is consistently drawn as a keen observer of people and situations Formerly an IRS Agent he is keen observer of people and behavior Skills he later honed as a Secret Service Agent where he gained the ability to read a room and observe without being observed Yet, his infatuation with Jean Shaw and the roles she played in the films he loved end up blinding him to the present His link to the past effectively clouds his judgment and compromises his ability to observe and process the details around him It is elegantly done and, while the reader eventually sees what s happening, never manages to feel contrived.
His keen observation skills and love of Jean Shaws old movies aside LaBrava remains an surprisingly unobtrusive character While some might complain that this is a detriment to a hard boiled thriller I would argue that it is intentional on Leonard s part As LaBrava frequently states, or others mention about LaBrava, he doesn t pose the subjects of his work In his role as photographer LaBrava fades to the background letting the subjects choose the pose or, quite simply, catching them candidly LaBrava s role in the story is thus similar to his job as photographer While he remains the reader s primary means of observation he also serves as a facilitator in introducing the brightly colored and interesting characters he interacts with The go go dancing, car stealing Cundo Rey, the brutish Richard Nobles, the fast talking Maurice, and many others are all side characters vividly drawn then LaBrava himself It was an effect I quite liked though one that the seasoned crime reader might not appreciate.
In the end I found LaBrava an enjoyable read if not as immediately engaging as some of my previous experiences so far The dialogue is interesting though bounces back from somewhat mundane to showing a true creative flair Where the story shines is in the cast of oddball characters that seem to hover around the plot itself Cundo Rey would later appear in Leonard s 2009 novel Road Dogs While I can t say how LaBrava stacks up against Leonard s other fiction I can say that it is worth a look for anyone interested in a fascinating story filled with colorful characters even if that plot is occasionally predictable.
Joe LaBrava is an ex agent turned photographer One day, through a rich friend of his, he comes across a movie star who he idolised in his youth It turns out though that she s destitute and is going to be killed by a thug and his cuban sidekick Soon LaBrava starts thinking that he s in an action film and finds it difficult to distinguish between reality and fantasy Obviously he gets his way but at a bit of a cost.
Leonard s crime novels are never whodunnits He lays everything plain and in your face The main focus is how his characters are going to get out of sticky situations and their reaction to the crimes committed Plus his characters are wonderfully fleshed out and realistic so it s a joy reading about their antics.
After reading a series of experimental novels, books like LaBrava do lighten up the general doom and gloom of the list.
AnnouncementAt the moment there will be a bit of a break No worries I WILL continue with the list but I m reading a couple of novels that aren t mentioned in the book as I m in the mood for some contemporary lit.
Former Secret Service agent Joe LaBrava meets an actress he fell in love with at age twelve Now she s being blackmailed by a redneck and his Cuban partner Or is she Can LaBrava get to the bottom of things before he winds up dead When it comes to El Leonard books, they re either awesome or just okay This one is definitely closer to okay.
The plot was pretty good LaBrava, a photographer and former FBI man, gets entangled with Jean Shaw, an actress he s pined over for years and a blackmail scheme As always with Leonard, the dialogue and machinations were the stars of the show Leonard paints a vivid picture of Florida s sleazy underbelly The characters of LaBrava, Franny, Richie, and Rey were all pretty well rounded I thought I had the ending figured out but it went in a slightly different direction.
It wasn t a great El Leonard because everything felt a little too easy I also thought the twist was tipped a little too early Once I knew all the players in the blackmail game, I was ready for it to be over.
Still, even a mediocre El Leonard is still pretty good I liked it but I didn t love it.
LaBrava got Nobles down on his spine, head hard against the wall to straddle his legs Worked free the bluesteel revolver and slipped the blunt end of the barrel into his open mouth Nobles gagged, trying to twist free.
LaBrava said, Suck on it It ll calm you downNot an easy review to write as I am forced to demonstrate my own incompetence El Leonard s LaBrava received the prestigious Edgar Award for the best novel in 1984 and yet I have been unable to find anything remarkable about the book While readers are not expected to fully agree with literary critics my disagreement with the Edgars jury is rather vehement LaBrava has a moderately interesting story, but then nothing else stands out Flat characterizations, stereotypes, and uninspired prose I have always believed that the art of writing should be the most important criterion when judging a book, not whether it tells a good story Well, I might have been wrong The scene is Florida in the early 1980s, much changed for the worse in comparison with the golden times of 40 or 50 years earlier We meet a once famous movie actress, Jean, her close friend Maurice, a professional photographer, real estate owner and manager, and Joe LaBrava, an ex government operative with Secret Service experience Two hustlers round off the set of main characters The opening scene in a County Crisis Center is quite interesting all characters appear here and the men are looking for Jean who overindulged in alcohol and caused a street scene The author then takes about a hundred pages to leisurely build the criminal intrigue It is only about page 150 that the reader begins to realize what the plot is all about I did not particularly enjoy the denouement although it is reasonably elegant and not that implausible.
I have a serious problem with characterizations I don t feel the protagonists of LaBrava are real people they are just vehicles to move the plot, instances of clich templates of certain types of people We have a big hunk of a man with a tiny brain, a small hustler short on imagination but long on criminal history and a basically good guy torn between his sense of duty and his heart The plot includes many little side stories that may be interesting to readers who like to learn about how it supposedly is in the real world of crime, yet I fail to grasp how these stories contribute to the novel.
The intrigue while ingenious is just a movie plot The novel reads exactly like a script for a potentially successful crime movie, but is this really enough to make the story a good novel Let me paraphrase the viciously biting critique of an author I am substituting Mr Leonard for Mr Crichton offered by Martin Amis in his The War Against Clich Story is what Mr Leonard is good at People are what he is not so good at People and proseOn the positive side, I quite like the clever connection of the plot with 1950s movies and the tastefully written love scene The Florida sense of place comes across a little, certainly better than the psychology stereotypes The characters talk in a language used by people in the know , for instance, we hear them talk about the coast only one coast is the coast in this country of two coasts.
Worth a read Certainly, if one reads books solely for the story.
Two and a half stars.