A snapshot of 1980s south Florida: LaBrava, Elmore Leonard

Harper Torch, 1983

ISBN 0060512237 (ISBN13: 9780060512231)

Part of the Mysterious USA Reading Challenge

LAbrava coverHaving spent a little of my childhood in early 1980s Miami—I am Colombian, after all—this novel brought back a lot of memories and highlighted how much Miami has changed since then.

Elmore Leonard’s LaBrava perfectly captures a time and a place, without missing a thing. Reading it now, knowing that South Beach was going to become what it became, it is interesting to hear about the Cardozo, Joe’s and other places that managed to survive, the Biscaya hotel (not to be confused with Vizcaya), which almost didn’t make it and is still quite scary.

Maurice, the flamboyant, eccentric little old man who loved Miami reminded me of my beloved grandfather. Although not as eccentric as Maury, my grandfather loved the city and knew it, its streets and history better than anyone. Like Maury, he was not pretentious and maybe a little too trusting.

The novel painted a perfect picture of a place and its people, including the unique mix of old Jewish retirees, Marielitos, Florida country boys, and a slew of underworld characters. In time-capsule fashion, Leonard documents the inner-city wasteland that it had become, with abandoned buildings, constant crime and unsavory natives.

More a crime novel than a mystery, LaBrava seems almost like a caricature of noir, with the spider woman who used to play a spider woman in the movies, the tough but sensitive ex-man of the law, the rich cuckold…all with a flair that is uniquely Elmore Leonard- the go-go dancing killer, LaBrava’s weird shirts…

LaBrava’s new career as a photographer lets the description of places and people flow naturally and with the composition of a good picture. The characters he meets and photographs add richness and texture to the novel and the plot.

The novel was a nice trip back to the feeling of Miami in the early 80s, and a reflection on how much it has changed…and how much it hasn’t.

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