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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Plaster City by Johnny Shaw

Thomas & Mercer, 352 pages, $14.95 (release date - 5/1/14)

When Dove Season, the first of the Jimmy Veeder Fiasco books, came out, I decided that it was my favorite in the series — even though there was only one book at that point in the series. Now that Plaster City, the second in the series, has come out, I know that this is my favorite in the series. (Sorry, Dove Season.) In other words, each one of Johnny Shaw’s books has left me a happy camper, with the conviction that the next book couldn’t possibly be better. That includes Shaw’s Big Maria, not a Jimmy Veeder Fiasco book, which had me busting a gut with laughter.

Plaster City is a wonderfully plotted, humor-filled book, with masterfully drawn eccentric characters up the yin-yang.

I would say that the Jimmy Veeder books are guy books, except that I’m not a guy and I love them. The strong personal ties in both books are between men, and yes, I’ll use that over-used, Hollywood, gossip-column word here, they’re “bromances.” Jimmy’s lifelong friend is Bobby Maves. At one point in Plaster City another character marvels that Bobby actually went to college, that’s how senseless some of his actions are. The safety valve in his brain took a hike a long time ago. One of them even coined a term for Bobby’s misadventures: Mavescapades. Indeed.

Both Jimmy and Bobby are farmers in the Calexico, California, area, on the border with Mexico. They are also boozers and brawlers and boisterous bromancers and brothers from another mother … and father. Only time is slowing them down. Time and the realization that they both have families now. Jimmy’s young son, Juan, discovered in Dove Season, and his girlfriend Angie provide Jimmy with a reason to grow up.

Julie is Bobby’s sixteen-year-old daughter with ex-wife Becky. Now she’s missing, and Bobby calls in his pal Jimmy to help him find her. He was never much of a father; he never let responsibility get in the way of a good time. But now he wants to own up to how he may have set the model for wasting one’s youth and inadvertently gotten his daughter into trouble. Despite Jimmy’s misgivings about leaving his family for this road warrior trip, he feels he owes Bobby for all the times Bobby had his back. (Of course, Bobby often wouldn’t have had to have Jimmy’s back if Bobby hadn’t gotten Jimmy into trouble in the first place.)

Shaw has a way with words when describing the hot, arid, isolated area where most of the action takes place, and in describing the people, both law-abiding and criminal (and those who are a little of both), who live in those areas as well.

There is a lot of action — hey, it’s a Johnny Shaw book — but some of the best moments are the quiet ones, especially the last few pages of the book. It is the path down which Shaw takes his characters that reveals his true writer’s mettle, and it is awesome.

Here’s a pretend conversation between me and Johnny Shaw:
Shaw: What? No.
Me: Yes.
Here is an MBTB star for a book that shows genuine heart.

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