Guest review by best-selling
author Blake Crouch whose new thriller Pines has received more than 100 5-star
reviews on Amazon. Crouch reviews the new crime humor novel Big Maria by Johnny
Shaw now available on Kindle.
For me, there are several variations on the
"amazing reading experience."
When you can't put a book down due to perfect
When you find yourself caring deeply about its
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
Such is the wonder of Big Maria, the second
novel (following Dove Season) by
Johnny Shaw, which somehow manages to achieve all of the above and more. This
book is, at heart, an unlikely buddy movie. It's driven by our three main
characters: an old cancerous Indian named Frank, an alcoholic, ex-prison guard
named Harry, and a down-on-his-luck family-man named Ricky who's fresh off a
tragedy of his own making. Long story short, they all end up together on a
quest for gold in some mountains dead-smack in the middle of a U.S. government
weaponry range. Take my word for it—it's crazier than it sounds, and in Shaw's
masterful hands, this is a great thing.
You can't talk about this book without quoting from
"You know how when you get high and Nacho Doritos sound
better than a lady hole?"
"Are you the idiot in charge? The idiot that may have killed
my father through your negligence? Or is there a different idiot I should be
"My brother’s dumb as a box of hammers and she ain’t no
"Everything got a lot more confusing after the burro
And these quotes don't even begin to capture the
brilliant insanity of the scenes that comprise this novel. To be honest, I'm
still not quite sure how Johnny Shaw pulled it off, but I know that it's a
testament to his skill as a writer. There's comedy here, on every page, but you
can taste the tears behind the laughs, and to me, as a writer, that's something
I aspire to. That's the mark of something, capital S, Special. There is no
tinier tightrope to dance across, and I would even venture to say that it's a
hallmark of great fiction on par with Victor Gischler, Scott Phillips, Carl
Hiassen, and even John Steinbeck.
And I say Steinbeck, because the characters that
populate Shaw's novel are marginalized. They live in the outskirts of society,
in places most of us would never go. They've been kicked, scoffed at, ridden over.
But the cool, beautiful thing this novel shows us is that we aren't any
different. Our dreams and our fears are the same.
Shaw has invented "dust bowl" fiction for
the 21st century.
Funny, sad, madcap, compulsively readable, and
ultimately, so very, very wise.
I mentioned the great one-liners earlier but the best
of the book comes on the last page. I won't write it down here, because you
have to read the book for the privilege of reading it. However, you'll know
when you've reached it, because you'll have a lump in your throat. It's a
perfect line spoken by a deeply flawed character who has changed because of the
story we just read—what more can we ask great fiction to be?