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LaBrava (2003)

LaBrava (2003)

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3.78 of 5 Votes: 2
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0060512237 (ISBN13: 9780060512231)

About book LaBrava (2003)

“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 more 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 more 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 more 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 more 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.

This was my first Elmore Leonard book, even though I don’t know what took me so long since I really enjoyed Out of Sight, Karen Sisco, and Justified. I liked how those characters were really good at one or two things, but also had some faults that usually led them into some kind of trouble. It still gave you someone to root for, even when their mistakes were causing them much annoyance, pain, and most of the time, heartache.LaBrava is a former secret service agent who is now a portrait and street photographer in Miami. He is friends with a guy who asks for help with an old friend who happens to be an aging movie star that LaBrava has had a crush on since he first saw her movies as a boy. He then gets mixed up in the trouble she has brewing for herself in her personal life.Reading this at the same time as I’m reading George R.R. Martin is almost like whiplash between the two writing styles. While Martin does a great job with plot and action, he goes into overkill describing what someone is wearing or wasting words on an insignificant character that is never mentioned again. Leonard tells you what you need to know. He gets right to the point. I never felt like I couldn’t imagine a scene or what a character looked like with his minimalist writing style. He used all the necessary words and left out the fluff. It was refreshing.I read this as part of a book club (#1book140) and we got into a discussion about a bit of sexism towards the end of the book with the character of Franny. She starts off as an interesting character, but then is written off in a way. She has her own hobbies and job when she is interested in LaBrava. As the novel goes on, she disappears for part of it, pops back up, and seems to have lost her own self. Her new hobbies are the same as LaBrava. She pouts that he didn’t notice she was missing, yet still tells him she’ll be there if he wants her. What happened to that character? Other characters in the novel were more fully realized. I wished her character had been too.Overall, I really enjoyed his writing style. I liked that the story set-up was brief, but still gave you what you needed to know before the action started. For the most part, he did a good job describing the different characters and you knew their motivation for their actions. I really want to read more of his work, possibly something that I have watched or can watch as a movie or tv series to compare how his work has been translated.

Do You like book LaBrava (2003)?

I'm embarrassed to admit that I've never read Elmore Leonard's work before, even though I observed my father, husband and brothers enjoying his work over the past 25 years or more. For some reason I must have thought his books weren't for me. How wrong I was!There are many good things about LABRAVA. The plot: noir with a twist, and one that leaves the reader wondering what will happen after the end of the book. The setting: South Beach before the Diet. The characters: complex doesn't begin to describe some of them, while others are stunningly simple. And then there's the language, my favorite part of all. Elmore Leonard gets down on paper the way people actually talk -- you can hear their voices in your head as you read.If by some chance you, too, have missed Leonard's work, or just this one book, run right out and get hold of it today. You won't be sorry.

Nobody does it like Elmore Leonard. Essentially, the Dickens of Detroit has written the same novel many times - but with immaculate style each time. You can't take out a word from Leonard's prose as his writing is delightfully dense and his characters speak in slightly hyper-real tones. He makes reading feel more like listening. This time it is about a past secret service agent and a fading film star. There are the usual Leonard psychopaths and the anti-climatic ending. On the way, the reader is gently caressed with age-old crime fiction cliches that are cleverly reshaped and numerous Hollywood references which the intended demographic grew up with. Clever, ultimately not very original - but what a writer!

Elmore 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 Elmore Leonard began sort of parodying Elmore 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 Elmore 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 Elmore 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 more 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.
—Joe Valdez

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