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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.
The appearance of soldiers by the time Harry and Ricky found the gold should have ended the story differently. Either these soldiers should have killed Harry and Ricky and took all the gold or all the soldiers, Harry and Ricky are killed by the flash flood. To believe that the hand of God intervened such that the flash flood kills the soldiers while Harry and Ricky are somehow saved is difficult to believe! Also the author killed the two donkeys and the old Indian man Frank while he kept Harry and Ricky alive. Again it is an American trend to sacrifice anyone but the stars of the novel. A British end for this story would have been different. My end would be the death of the soldiers, Harry and Ricky and the loss of gold. This is real life as we experience it!
The story is well-written and engaging, though you may not care for the vivid descriptions of the bodily fluids, the beatings or the settings. Very few of the characters are decent human beings though they all try. There is humor and the events that occur are sometimes downright funny -- the characters stand out as unique but not comically so. We'll all recognize some elements within these losers. The plot keeps you entertained and interested, with casual twists and turns that keep you wanting more but don't throw you off track.
This is not a conventional story but one well worth the 4.99 -- so much so that I bought Johnny Shaw's other book as well. Enjoy.