Review: Three down-on-their-luck guys — one an ambitious twenty-something man with a wife and young child; another a middle-aged perennial loser looking for a short-cut to success; and the third a retired widower just diagnosed with a new case of cancer — band together to search for gold in the mountains of southern Arizona in Big Maria, a stand-alone crime thriller by Johnny Shaw.
Ricky McBride is saving every penny to buy a new passenger coach, a step towards improving the the lives of his family. In the meantime, he's keeping an ancient school bus together with "baling wire, duct tape, spit, and prayer." Unfortunately he didn't count on a mule deer standing in the middle of the road on a trip back from Mexico, ferrying senior citizens getting their prescriptions refilled at a discount south of the border. He misses the deer, but crashes his bus into a ravine, killing several of the passengers. Harry Schmittberger, on the other hand, has no ambition whatsoever. A prison employee on disability, he overhears of a story from a conspiracy theorist that vast quantities of hidden gold are available for the taking … if only one knew where to look. He figures just a couple of pounds of gold will set up him for the rest of his miserable life. Meanwhile, Frank Pacheco, subsisting on a meager income from Indian casino royalty checks, has only cancer treatments to look forward to. Probably easier to die but he's too stubborn for that. When the three men meet up by chance in the hospital, they decide they have nothing to lose by searching for the gold … and everything to gain. If only it were that simple …
Potential buyers of Big Maria need to read through the first couple of chapters of this book, a feature conveniently provided by most online retailers. This is one of those comic crime capers for which the style and the tone of what is to follow is firmly set early. Readers who like what they see will no doubt enjoy the raucous adventure that these three men find themselves on. Those that do not most certainly will not. The characters are vividly drawn and range from the barely tolerable to the almost endearing, the storyline — which has a screenplay-like quality to it — exciting if often rather less than credible. Big Maria is good for what it is; it's just a little tricky trying to define exactly what "it" is.
Acknowledgment: Thomas & Mercer provided an ARC of Big Maria for this review.
Review Copyright © 2013 — Hidden Staircase Mystery Books — All Rights Reserved
Location(s) referenced in Big Maria: Arizona
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Big Maria by Johnny Shaw
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Format: Trade Paperback
Publication Date: September 2012
List Price: $14.95