Part of the fun in diving into this 700-page novel is trying to spot the main players and the big thrust, because Wolfe can very often lavish immense energy and detail on minor characters or incidents. Who will be the plot-bearer, the heavy hitter? Will it be Nestor Camacho, aspiring cop, a second-generation Cuban who can't speak Spanish? Will it be Haitian academic Lantier, who loathes teaching Creole? Or celebrity shrink Norman Lewis, who treats porn addicts? The Yale-educated reporter John Smith? Or his boss Ed Topping IV, the editor of the Miami Herald?
The subtext in Wolfe isn't buried very deep. The prologue opens with Topping on his way to a hip eatery (a typical destination for a Wolfe character) called Balzac. There is no restaurant in Miami called Balzac, but Wolfe is waving his mission statement. Like Balzac he loves his décor, like Balzac he loves art, like Balzac he wants to engulf the whole of society, and Wolfe's characters, like Balzac's, are principally worried about making it, about getting farther up the greasy pole. Although Wolfe's characters have one distinguishing feature, they are preoccupied with appearance, they have a terror of loss of face as much as loss of income. Wolfe is the poet laureate of humiliation.
Back to Blood has an odd mixture of reality and name-changing. I'm amazed the lawyers, considering the fondness for litigation in the US, allowed Wolfe to have so much fun with the Miami Herald and its Spanish-language counterpart El Nuevo Herald, but at a celebrity bash we get Leon Decapito instead of Leonardo DiCaprio (although Leon behaves impeccably).
It's the young cop, Nestor Camacho, who turns out to be the girder that supports most of the work. The good-natured Nestor has a snakes-and-ladders run with his career as he repeatedly goes from hero to zero. He climbs up a 70 ft-mast by rope to save a Cuban would-be refugee and tarzans him back to the deck safely. Lauded by his fellow cops, his triumph turns to ashes when the entire Cuban community and his family ostracise him because the would-be refugee is returned to Cuba as he failed to reach dry land and thus qualify for asylum.