Kemper's Reviews > Big Maria

Big Maria by Johnny Shaw
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really liked it
bookshelves: 2012, humor, rednecks, crime-mystery, johnny-shaw

Three men who are down on their luck go looking for gold in the mountains of a desert.

“Badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges. I don't have to show you any stinking badges!”

No, no, this isn't The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. The characters in this have far more in common with Donald Westlake’s luckless thief Dortmunder than they do with Humphrey Bogart.

In a little shit splat of a town Harry is a prison guard scamming disability checks that he uses to finance his drinking. Frank is an elderly Native American who is more scared of his angry overbearing daughter than he is of the cancer that is killing him. Ricky isn't too bright but dearly loves his wife and daughter and hopes to someday get them out of the trailer park they’re living in.

While lying in an alley outside a bar with puke in his pants, Harry overhears a conversation that gets him interested in the gold mines of the nearby Chocolate Mountains, and he decides that’s the way to change his fortunes. When circumstances bring Rick and Frank into the plan, Frank reveals some family history that gives them a clue to a fortune in gold that might be hidden away in the old Big Maria mine.

The problem is that the Big Maria is located in the middle of the mountains where the US military tests out all of its artillery, bombs, and mines. Their efforts to locate the gold result in a dark comedy of errors and explosions.

Like his first novel Dove Season, Johnny Shaw has written a very funny story set in the desert country of the California/Arizona border populated with a collection of misfits and losers. The great thing about it is that Shaw makes you care about these people and their struggle to improve their lives and doesn't treat them like cartoon cliches.

There are a lot of twists to the story that is often funny and graphically gross, usually at the same time. The ending was somewhat abrupt, and I liked Dove Season a bit more than this one. Still it’s a fun read and a humorous story about guys seeking their fortunes with grim determination no matter what life throws at them.

Full disclosure: I have done an unpaid review for the Blood & Tacos quarterly e-magazine that Johnny Shaw edits and writes for.
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Reading Progress

November 6, 2012 – Started Reading
November 6, 2012 – Shelved
November 14, 2012 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-9 of 9 (9 new)

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Melki I thought this book was hilarious. All I can say is, Johnny Shaw - write faster!


Kemper Melki wrote: "I thought this book was hilarious. All I can say is, Johnny Shaw - write faster!"

I completely agree.


message 3: by Toby (new)

Toby I was reading all the way through this thinking about where the name was familiar from and then you go and saved me from a day of head scratching by adding the disclosure statement.

When's the new issue published? I was telling people about it the other day after I happened across Heavy Metal screening on TCM. I'd never read the magazine but the movie seems to have the same approach as Blood & Tacos but without the tongue in cheek.


Kemper Tfitoby wrote: "I was reading all the way through this thinking about where the name was familiar from and then you go and saved me from a day of head scratching by adding the disclosure statement.

When's the ne..."


Not sure of an exact date but they've been hitting once a quarter so I'd hope for a new one by the end of the year.


message 5: by Dan (new) - rated it 4 stars

Dan Schwent Is this related to Dove Season at all?


Kemper Dan wrote: "Is this related to Dove Season at all?"

No, totally different characters. Just set in the same part of the world. I think he's doing a sequel to Dove Season or it's going to be an on-going series.


message 7: by Jonathan (new)

Jonathan Peto Shaw's characters in Dove Season were great. The fact that the characters in this novel end up on an artillery range - I think I already love them.


Kemper Jonathan wrote: "Shaw's characters in Dove Season were great. The fact that the characters in this novel end up on an artillery range - I think I already love them."

Who knew there so much humor to be mined from three guys trying to avoid mines while searching for a mine?


James Thane This one is working its way up to the top of my to-read stack. Looking forward to it.


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