Elmore Leonard,
(Arbor House, 1983;
HarperTorch, 2003)

I'm not sure I liked anyone in this story, but the story at least is told well.

Set in Miami Beach, Florida, circa the 1990s, the tale features Joe LaBrava, a former Secret Service agent, now up-and-coming artistic photographer; Maurice, a tough old guy who might be rich and who owns a hotel; Jean Shaw, a former movie star, now retired, but still very attractive; Richard Nobles, a tough cop wanna-be, now a security guard and possible con artist (or worse); Cundo Rey, a Cuban refugee, exotic dancer, possible con man (or worse); and Franny, a young local artist and cosmetics saleswoman.

Jean calls her old friend, Maurice, to say she's in trouble. Maurice and Joe find her in a county detox clinic, but the drinking isn't the real problem. Richard has gotten mixed up with a security guard, Richard, and now he is getting too friendly and possessive. But, if that's all there was, the story would be over too soon. Richard and Cundo are cooking up a scheme to steal money from Jean, whom they believe is rich. But, is there a silent third partner, a mastermind?

Joe, Jean and Maurice try to figure out what's really going on and protect Jean, with help from Joe's police friends and street contacts (as a roving photographer, he has gotten to know lots of people). Meanwhile, Joe might be in love with Jean, whom he idolized as a movie star, but Joe might also be falling in love with Franny. And what about Maurice and Jean?

I really like the complexity of these characters. Joe is the protagonist, and is basically a good guy and a nice guy, but he will solve this mystery, no matter who or what gets in his way. He doesn't want to hurt anyone, but.... Maurice is old, but refuses to accept it. He might or might not be rich. Jean is beautiful and seductive, but is it real, or is it all acting? Does she even know? Richard is trying to be clever and tough and a big-time schemer, but he doesn't quite have the full capability to be any of that to the degree he wishes or thinks he is. Cundo is smooth and slick and charming, but never turn your back on him, as he intends to survive, at any cost.

The plot also has a fair amount of complexity, with the whole situation unfolding gradually, to reveal some genuine surprises. The pace of the writing, though, is a bit uneven, with several slow spots, and a slight tendency to overdo the level of descriptive detail, at the occasional expense of the action.

Overall, I enjoyed this story -- and it would make a good movie.

by Chris McCallister
29 July 2006

Buy it from Amazon.com.