Sunday, April 13, 2014


Plaster City
by Johnny Shaw

4 out of 5 model rockets were fired off in celebration of this book.

“Ceja Carneros hit me so hard he broke his watch on my head.”

And with that opening line the second Jimmy Veeder Fiasco begins.   In Dove Season Jimmy returned to his childhood home in the desert country of Imperial Valley in California after years of doing his best avoid to any and all responsibility.  Now he’s a farmer living with his girlfriend and raising a small boy, but Jimmy can’t entirely give up his old ways. Whenever his best friend Bobby Maves decides it time for drunken adventure, Jimmy is his first call to join him on Mavescapades that usually involve physical injuries as well as hangovers. Since Bobby recently broke up with his girlfriend, the late nights have been a lot more frequent lately.

Then Bobby gets word that his estranged sixteen year daughter has disappeared from her home in a neighboring city, and  Jimmy feels obligated to help his friend track the girl down.  Since Bobby fully believes that anything less than kicking in doors, knocking heads and demanding answers is a shameful compromise, they soon find themselves embroiled in a series of confrontations that are both extremely violent and sometimes pretty funny.

Johnny Shaw hit my radar in a big way a couple years back with Dove Season, Big Maria and the quarterly e-magazine Blood & Tacos*, and Plaster City continues to show what makes him such a fun read.  Fast, violent, funny and entertaining, Jimmy’s second adventure is as good as the first.  The emotional weight this time comes from Jimmy’s conflict between wanting to be a responsible person that his girlfriend and son can depend on, and his desire to be a loyal friend to the reckless Bobby.

A big part of the appeal is that Jimmy isn’t your typical crime novel protagonist.  He’s not a bad ass and is well aware that he’s in way over his head. Jimmy’s also a genuinely nice guy who doesn’t want to hurt anyone.  Yet he feels duty bound to stick by Bobby even as his macho redneck insistence on doing things with fists and guns repeatedly puts both of them in danger.  As they cross paths with a Mexican biker gang and another childhood friend who has become a dangerous criminal kingpin, the tension between Jimmy’s family life and his friend increases to the breaking point.

Anyone who likes a fast paced story populated by colorful characters in which the violence is doled out with both humor and an appreciation of the consequences should be reading Johnny Shaw.

*(Full disclosure.  I contributed an unpaid review to an issue of Blood & Tacos.)

Also posted on Goodreads.

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