On February 25, 1964, Cassius Clay defeated Sonny Liston. In Miami, Florida, a 12-year-old boy named Manuel Ricardo Morales, known as Snake, listens excitedly to the radio transmission of the fight. Originally from Cuba, Snake and his family came to Miami to elude the Fidel Castro regime. On this night, most of the members of the Morales family are killed, as Snake sees who he believes to be Castro's hit men enter his home and leave him an orphan. Although he fights back valiantly --- like his hero, Cassius Clay --- Snake also loses his beloved girlfriend, Carmen, to these thugs.
A photograph of the fight becomes critical to the plot from this point forward --- because sitting in row three of that picture is the man responsible for these horrific murders. A now-grown-up Snake discovers that Lawton Collins is in possession of a copy of the photograph and goes to Lawton's house to retrieve it. There, he and his friend find Thorn Truman, our protagonist, who is engaged to Alexandria Collins. "He would find the photo, decipher its meaning, and then do what was necessary, accomplishing each step with dispassionate focus. As Cassius had fought. Aloof, above the fray, deliberate, calculated, and merciless."
Lawton Collins is a terrific character. A retired cop, with a great sense of humor and irony, he is not a fan of Thorn dating his daughter. "It's about time she got back," Lawton said. "Leaving her old man in the hands of an unreliable doofus, what kind of daughter would do that to her defenseless old dad."
As a highly valued CIA operative, Pauline Caufield's role in maintaining a high-profile manufacturing executive cover provides readers with a second plot. The two storylines come together with the significance of the Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston photo.
What is particularly interesting about MAGIC CITY is the weaving and depth of the plot lines. Just when you think that James W. Hall has written a commonplace novel, he smacks you with another piece of the puzzle. This incredibly well-crafted story has all the elements to surprise, captivate and reassure the reader that this is a book worth reading.
Thorn Truman is hesitant to leave his home in the Florida Keys for his visit to Alexandria in Miami. He will soon see that he has good reason to be reluctant, as his trip to Miami will be nothing but ordinary. When the federal government, the CIA, Cuban rebels and the Catholic Church are involved, action reigns. Who is exonerated, who is blamed, and who sinks back into the woodwork? Read MAGIC CITY and find out for yourself.
Reviewed by Marge Fletcher on March 6, 2007