Harper, 2009 (orig. Penguin 1985)
“A while ago somewhere
I don’t know when
I was watching a movie with a friend.
I fell in love with the actress.
She was playing a part that I could understand.”
-Neil Young, “A Man Needs a Maid”
It took a chapter or two, after we’re finally introduced to Jean Shaw and what she means to secret service agent come photographer Joe LaBrava, that Neil Young’s song “A Man Needs a Maid” came to mind. I’m sure we all have that actress, or actor, who we’ve seen and who in our youth we maybe fell a little bit in love with. There might have come a point when that actress and the parts she plays have become nigh inseparable in our hearts and minds. Of course, given today’s fascination with celebrity and the constant vulture like circling of paparazzi the illusion that films provided is somewhat lost. The mystery and magic of actors and actresses is shattered by the flash of the camera and the thunder of gossip across television screens and computer monitors. A belief that is at least somewhat thematically related to LaBrava which, while being a crime thriller, is as much about the reality of of modern times shattering the illusions of the past as it about crime.
As a historical side note Labrava, published in 1983, was written just 4 years after the area was officially added to the National Register of Historic Places (1979) and only 3 years after the Miami race riots and after some 25 years of population increases resulting from Castro’s takeover in Cuba in 1959 . To say it was an area in both deep economic and demographic flux is perhaps putting it mildly but I think it is worth noting. It is perhaps interesting to note as well that two years later, in 1985, Miami Vice would take home four Emmies and would remain an example and monument to eighties New Wave culture for years to come. The bright colors of Miami Vice stand in stark contrasted to faded glories described in Labrava.