Joe LaBrava gets involved with former movie star Jean Shaw, whom he admired as a twelve year-old boy staring at a movie screen, when he discovers that she is being harassed by thug Richard Nobles and his partner Cundo Rey.
According to Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of The New York Times, "What's unusual about LaBrava is that no matter how complicated its implications grow, it remains firmly rooted in its realistic milieu. And despite all the double-crossing mayhem it metes out, nobody gets hurt who doesn't deserve to. The only innocent victim is the dream of Florida as a golden sunset for the old and infirm to fade peacefully into."
The setting of "LaBrava" is South Beach, Florida. Maurice Zola wistfully recalls the heyday of the 1930s and 1940s when the area had a cachet with movie stars. By the 1980s the area had fallen into disrepair and drug activity was rife. Movies such as "Scarface" and T.V Series such as "Miami Vice" showed this seamy side of South Beach. It is in this era that "LaBrava" is set. From the 1990s the area became gentrified.