The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Joseph LaBrava

Joseph LaBrava, formerly an agent for the Internal Revenue Service and for the Secret Service, now a professional photographer whose work is good enough to remind experts of such great photographers as Alfred Stieglitz and Diane Arbus. He is a friend of Maurice Zola, who introduces him to Jean Shaw, a film heroine of whom Joseph had dreamed while young. Joseph and Jean have a brief affair. Joseph is responsible for foiling a plot by Richard Nobles and Cundo Rey to extort money from Jean, but he comes to the sad realization that Jean actually was the chief instigator of the scheme. She tries to convince him to ignore her part, but he resists until the end, when her promise to marry Maurice causes him to keep secret her criminal activity.

Maurice Zola

Maurice Zola, an eighty-year-old former bookie who now lives on the income from residence hotels he owns in Miami. He promotes Joseph’s career as a photographer and looks after the interests of his longtime friend Jean Shaw. Unjustifiably proud of his street smarts, he is open to the clever scam that seems to be run by Richard Nobles but in fact is directed by Jean. It is Maurice’s money the plotters are after. Maurice is shielded by Joseph from knowledge of Jean’s role in the crimes.

Jean Shaw

Jean Shaw, a former actress who lives on money left by her third husband. In films, she always played the part of the woman who...

(The entire section is 549 words.)