The title Glitz encapsulates Leonard’s message: Americans are becoming corrupted by materialism, and the whole world is following the American example under the influence of American movies, television, music, advertising, merchandising, tourism, and capital investment. Traditional cultures are being homogenized into a single meretricious one. Love, honor, loyalty, and human sympathy are being undermined by greed, competition, and emulation of unworthy models. The obsession with materialism gives power to the worst types.
Leonard dramatizes his message in Glitz by contrasting the old with the new. He shows the simple people of Puerto Rico living in poverty alongside glamorous resorts that cater to rich outsiders. He contrasts the gaudy gambling casinos of Atlantic City with the rapidly disappearing dwellings of the old Atlantic City, where families used to come for restful, inexpensive vacations by the sea.
The plot of Glitz centers on Iris Ruiz, who is both blessed and cursed with beauty. Because of the false values she has absorbed from exposure to conspicuous consumption, she has been tempted to use her beauty to make money. She becomes a high-class prostitute. She goes to an Atlantic City high-rise to be served up to a visiting high roller as a “comp” and is thrown to her death eighteen floors below. The implication is that a beautiful young woman who ought to have had a home, children, and a loving husband becomes another soul discarded by a wasteful society.
While trying to find out how and why Iris died, Vincent Mora, the hero, explores the world that corrupted her. He is an honest, loyal detective who has seen too much gruesome reality to be deluded by superficial glamour. He recognizes many of the characters he encounters as the phonies they are; he also recognizes a few principally Linda Moon and DeLeon Johnson—as genuine human beings.