Maurice Zola describes Joe LaBrava as “one of those quiet guys, you never know what he’s gonna do next.” As a photographer, according to Zola, LaBrava “shoots barefaced fact. He’s got the feel and he makes you feel it.” The skills emerge from his keen understanding of people, because his eye, like the lens of his camera, penetrates to the essence of those he meets. These qualities, as well as his ubiquitous picture-taking, help him to solve the crimes that occur. LaBrava also inspires confidence and trust in people, such as canny Maurice Zola (who confides, “I’m going to tell you a secret I never told anybody around here”) and worldly-wise women like cosmetic salesperson Franny Kaufman and actress Jean Shaw. Although he lives in Zola’s Della Robbia Hotel and becomes deeply involved (sexually and otherwise) with its residents, LaBrava remains an outsider, fundamentally detached, and thus can credibly function as the moral center and conscience of the novel. He is a touchstone by which others are measured.
Maurice Zola, about eighty years old, has had several careers before settling upon hotel ownership and management. A onetime bookmaker and railroadman, in the 1930’s he was a photographer for the Farm Security Administration, “documenting the face of America during the Depression.” Part of the south Florida scene for half a century, he has experienced it all: women, scams, good times and bad. He has made a lot of money and lost some of it, but he still has plenty left. Given all he has been through, he retains a surprising amount of trust for people and looks out for the...
(The entire section is 662 words.)