I promise to get back to the focus of this blog soon, that is, independently published mysteries available on Amazon Kindle. I have been focused more on writing the past few weeks; plus my reading has strayed a bit. I just finished Paul Levine's first Jake Lassiter novel, Flesh and Bones from 1997, and I will reflect on it a little bit.
What struck me most about this book was the way it evoked the setting and aura of Dade County, Florida, where Miami is located. Levine's physical descriptions stunned me with their detail and specificity. This was true not only in long passages, but right in the center of dialogue. While his characters talked, he often inserted little details about the setting that kept us aware of the aura of place.
The second thing I particularly enjoyed was the character of Jake Lassiter. He's simply out of place in the high-rolling, fashionable Miami world he inhabits. A former Dolphins linebacker who made up for his lack of talent (he tells us) through doggedness, he later went on to become a defense lawyer. And he is not a tasteful Scotch drinker like his former teammate, natural athlete, and all-around scum Rusty MacLean. In many ways, Maclean is Jakes's foil: while MacLean is fashionable, Jake likes his Grolsch beer and burgers; MacLean is an agent for fashion models, Jake often represents lowlifes such as Roberto Condom; MacLean is out for only himself, Jake worries about truth and justice and tries to do right; MacLean is a coward; Jake has courage.
Finally, MacLean is a braggart and Jake is self-effacing. Levine handles this part of his character so well. For instance, at one point while Jake enjoys watching his beautiful client, model Chrissy Bernhardt, run down the beach, he confesses to these feelings: "I was content to be just where I was. Okay, okay, I know. The modern man is not supposed to react like he's descended from tree apes. I try, I really do. But I'm a throwback in lots of ways. Obsolete by today's standards. I still hold the elevator door for women, say 'Thank you, ma'am' to waitresses, and pick up the check when I take a lady (yeah, I still use the term) to lunch."
This hilarious and brilliant passage shows us so much about Jake. At the same time that he is displaying his basic decency, he is putting himself down as old-fashioned to the point of almost being a sexist. He worries about it and tries to do the right thing — and usually does. In spite of being fashionable, MacLean is closer to the apes than Jake.
This is just one place in the book where Levine has Jake do this little dance of effacing himself in the very moment he displays what makes him special. It's what I like best about his character, and I want to get to know him better. I will definitely be reading more from this series.