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Big Maria Paperback – September 25, 2012
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Blake Crouch reviews Johnny Shaw’s new crime humor novel Big Maria
For me, there are several variations on the "amazing reading experience."
- When you can't put a book down due to perfect plotting.
- When you find yourself caring deeply about its characters.
- When those characters are people who in real life you would shudder to have as neighbors and yet you still care.
- And this is truly the rarest of all and nothing short of an absolute gift. When every few pages you stumble across a one-liner that makes you smile, laugh, shake your head, and wonder just how long this writer can sustain this lovely train of thought.
Starred Review Shaw is back with another crazy “buddy picture” of a caper novel (following Dove Season, 2011), this one featuring three engaging losers who band together for a Treasure of the Sierre Madre–like search for an abandoned gold mine. Fortunately, our gang of bumblers is a bit less greedy than Fred C. Dobbs and associates, but the job they’ve set for themselves is a lot more demanding: first, they must find the treasure map buried under a house that is itself residing at the bottom of a lake; then it’s a simple matter of trespassing on federal land being used as a test-bombing site and climbing a mountain while dodging artillery and skipping through a minefield. It doesn’t help that our heroes are, respectively, a drunk named Schmidttberger (guess what his nickname is) with a broken leg; another drunk, this one a foolish optimist with an atrophied arm; and a senior citizen suffering from cancer and a heart condition. The comedy is low but hilarious and often tinged with violence (“Everything got a lot more confusing after the burro exploded”), but the emotion is real and often heartrending. Shaw somehow manages to drag you into his mix of absurdity, mayhem, and pathos against all your better instincts. You really shouldn’t be liking this book so much, you tell yourself before peeling off another 50 pages to see what explodes next and whether our guys get home safely. Comic thrillerdom has a new star. — Bill Ott
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Top customer reviews
Crime fiction popped into my head. Now, I had read Johnny Shaw's Dove Season and Plaster City and while those books were entertaining, they didn't' leave me rushing out to pick up the next one. But... I was bored, taking regulated shots of morphine to kill post-surgery pain, and thought what the hell. Maybe Shaw's got something else.
And he did.
He had Big Maria. Just waiting.
A writer has only a click to draw in a reader. Shaw knows this and so when he lay down that opening scene of a drunk waking up in a toilet stall, well, I was hooked. More than hooked. This was my kind of literature.
If you enjoy crime flicks like "Snatch," "Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels," "Get Shorty" then Big Maria might very well be for you. Seriously. Shaw has moments in here of pure genius. His three main characters are ones I wish I'd thought of, and the supporting cast generated just as many snorts and giggles as a whiff of chuckle gas. There are scenes that scream cinematic adaption, and maybe, just maybe, that might become reality.
Read this in two very merry days in between sessions of physical therapy.
No painkillers needed.
Harry - spends most of his time either drunk or hungover, and seems to be a magnet for bad luck
Ricky - has messed up badly and wants to win back the respect of his wife and daughter
Frank - an older man with not much time left, is bored with waiting around for death to find him
Frank's the fellow with the most common sense and also something of a "father figure" for the first two. BUT, before you go gettin' that Ozzie Nelson vibe, know that Frank will do WHATEVER IT TAKES to keep Harry and Ricky in line and focused on the prize...which just happens to be a forgotten gold mine.
The fact that said gold mine is now located within the confines of the US Army Proving Ground?
Details. Mere details.
So off these fellows go, on a very bumpy, and very funny, quest for fortune and treasure. In front of them? Guys with guns, choppers and tanks. Behind them? Harry's scary daughter, Mercedes. Forget 'pitbull with lipstick'...she's a rhino with a perm, and she'll do WHATEVER IT TAKES to protect her father, and basically keep him from having any fun.
This book is a comedy of misadventures with likable characters, great dialogue, hilarious situations, and oh, yeah - donkeys. Sounds like a winner to me.
For me, Big Maria is not so much about finding the gold as it is about true friendship. No one would have thought the three of them would end up as friends, but the unlikely happened.
This is a well written novel that would come across as intended for a male audience (in my book, at least)... But amidst the adventures, the swearing, the absence of a female protagonist, the setting on a military-controlled desert/mountain, the story has got humor, and most especially, it's got heart. I like that, I like that very much.