Imperial Valley by Johnny Shaw
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Jimmy Veeder is simple kind of guy who just wants to get married, raise his son, drink beer with his friends, and work on his farm. Unfortunately, he’s also the kind of guy who can accidently get on the bad side of a drug cartel kingpin while on his honeymoon in Mexico. In other words, poor ole Jimmy is just a shit magnet.
The books in this series are labeled as Jimmy Veeder Fiascos, and this third one certainly lives up to that billing. After Jimmy’s ill-fated trip to Mexico he returns to his home town in California’s Imperial Valley, but with a small army of cartel goons hot on his trail Jimmy has to turn to his friends for help. Since most of Jimmy’s pals are a collection of small town hell-raisers who thrive on drinking and fighting it isn’t exactly a group of tactical geniuses he can call on. But then again it’s not exactly like Jimmy is known for his long term planning skills either.
Johnny Shaw is one of those writers who is just flat-out funny. Both Jimmy’s first person narration and the dialogue are laced with hilarious lines that get me to laugh out loud, and he’s got a knack for mixing that with action along with some emotional stakes to feel like it all matters. I also appreciate that with Jimmy he’s created a regular fella with a good heart who isn’t a bad ass and really doesn’t want to hurt anyone even as he frequently finds himself in violent situations. Shaw does an equally good job at portraying the rural lifestyle and the oddball characters you might find there. I come from farm country so I’ve known more than a few people exactly like Jimmy’s buddies in my life. Just as Shaw presents them you’ll never have a more loyal friend who can nearly get you killed in ways you can’t imagine, and they’ll usually have a beer in their hand while it happens.
Fans of Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap & Leonard series should definitely give these books a try because they share a lot of the same DNA, but Shaw has got his own style and rhythm that’s he’s pretty much honed to perfection at this point. This was just pure madcap fun to read.
Full Disclosure – I once contributed an unpaid review to the Shaw’s Blood & Tacos e-zine.
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