Johnny Shaw
2010 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Finalist: General Fiction

GF finalist CJohnny Shaw was born and raised on the Calexico/Mexicali border, the setting of his novel, Dove Season. Shaw owned a bookstore in Los Angeles, which is now entirely online, and he works as both a screenwriter and a university lecturer teaching screenwriting. Only recently did Shaw feel that he had the distance he needed to write a novel about the people and places of his childhood home, the Imperial Valley. In Dove Season, Jimmy Veeder returns to his hometown on the California/Mexico border, where his attempt to satisfy his father’s highly unusual dying wish--for a Mexican prostitute named Yolanda--leads him into a world of murder and corruption.

(Photo © Roxanne Patruznick)

Read an excerpt from Dove Season

Tana French
Tana French

"After years of drifting, Jimmy Veeder has come home to a decaying small town on the California-Mexico border, because his father is dying of cancer. But when his father’s final wish turns out to be for a prostitute named Yolanda, Jimmy and his childhood friend Bobby head off on a quest that quickly gets very, very out of hand. Between his father’s secrets and his rekindled relationship with his high school sweetheart, Jimmy is forced to wonder if it might be time for him to put down roots at last--assuming, of course, that he manages to survive the week.

The writing has a smart, fluent rhythm and crackle that pull you forward, and it’s full of sharply observed and often very funny details. The author is excellent at creating a sense of place with a few deft strokes (the depressing nursing-home chapel with posters of stained glass stuck to the wall), he moves effortlessly between dark comedy and moments that pack a real emotional punch, and he’s got a knack for off-kilter characters who are completely at home in their own personal corners of oddballdom. The structure is tight and well-paced--a couple of the plot twists knock the wind right out of you--and Jimmy is a wry, engaging narrator, getting further and further out of his depth in every possible way and responding with a mixture of integrity, compassion, and ruthlessness that not even he expected. There are flaws: Angie and her relationship with Jimmy could do with being developed a bit more, the denouement feels slightly patchy and rushed, and there are a few clumsy moments when the author spells out the nuances of a situation or conversation rather than trusting his own skill to bring them across more subtly. Those are minor things, though. If I were voting, this is where my vote would go: this is a great read, and you deserve the chance to read it, too."

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Molly Stern
Molly Stern

"After twelve years away, Jimmy Veeder returns to the arid land of his youth, a U.S./Mexico border town in Imperial County, California. His father is dying of cancer, and Jimmy has come to say good-bye, to have a last laugh, a last father-son pun-a-thon, their juvenile (and not very funny) bonding ritual. When his father asks him to find a Mexican prostitute named Yolanda with whom he has a history, Jimmy sets out to honor this request as his father’s last. This quest, undertaken with his hard-partying, risk-taking brawler of a best friend, Bobby, brings him trouble--in the form of border police, ass-kicking Mexican cowboys, and a smooth-talking crime boss, a friend from Jimmy’s erstwhile childhood. Yolanda’s murder sets in motion a near-suicidal rescue mission.

Shaw’s ear for the patois of the place is very sharp. The conversational malapropisms, the Spanglishy English, and the broken Spanish all capture the hot tangle of life and culture in border-town America. At its best, the hard-boiled writing in Dove Season is bawdy and wise-cracking, and reminds me a bit of the late, great James Crumley. Jimmy, too, is Shaw’s version of one of Crumley’s weak-willed and good-hearted heroes, with the requisite fondness for booze and women. This is a great compliment indeed. Crumley, who portrayed the hard edges of the West, had a genius for the poetics of violence. Shaw isn’t at that level, but he’s distinctive, and he’s brought this place to life, made it his own. The novel’s greatest weakness is its pacing. When Yolanda turns up dead in Jimmy’s own cistern, the narrative takes off like a rocket, but this doesn’t happen until two hundred pages in, which is a problem, given the teeth-grittingly corny humor and sentiment that guides the first half. But it’s a relatively minor complaint. There’s something here, and if Shaw retooled the book a bit, Dove Season would be a humdinger of a crime novel, and given the author’s affinity for the place, it could even spawn a series."

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Julie Barer
Julie Barer

"Dove Season by Johnny Shaw is the story of Jimmy Veeder, an aimless young man who returns to the small California farming community where he was raised to see his dying father, Jack. When Jimmy agrees to grant Jack’s unusual last wish, he finds himself wrapped up in a world of trouble involving late-night border crossings, corrupt Mexicali police, and a dead prostitute. Jimmy’s partner in his subsequent alcohol-fueled adventures is his best friend from childhood, a devoutly loyal bad-ass named Bobby, who is involved in an unlikely relationship with the local sheriff. Throw in a teenage romance that ended too soon, a homicidal bodyguard, and a power-hungry crime lord and you have the predictable amount of blood and macho posturing, if not an enormous amount of character development or plot surprises. Though the story feels at times more suited to a buddy film than a novel and will probably appeal less to women than to men, the unlikely titled Dove Season is a well-paced adventure with sharp dialogue and more than enough action to satisfy most readers."

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Other Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Finalists: General Fiction
Jennifer Handford | Patricia McArdle
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Finalists: Young Adult Fiction
Amy Ackley | Alex Airdale | Alison Stewart
Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award Expert Panelists: Young Adult Fiction
Sarah Dessen | Nancy Werlin | Ben Schrank | Amy Berkower