BIG MARIA by Johnny Shaw

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Publication Date: September, 2012

Sometimes life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Sometimes life saddles you with an unfortunate name, a bad accident, or just everyday old age and sickness. It’s how you handle these challenges that define your character. The main characters in Johnny Shaw’s book BIG MARIA refuse to let the shitty hands life dealt them define them. It’s this determination to rise above their situation that leads the trio on an adventure of a lifetime.
Shaw introduces the reader to a trio of everyday, down on their luck guys: Harry, Ricky, and Frank. Harry has been a loser since day one, but he hasn’t let that slow him down. He puts the moves on the ladies and tries to be tough at the bars. The nights usually end with him alone and sick in the bar bathroom. Ricky wants to provide for his wife and daughter more than anything, but a horrible accident on the job prevents him from working any longer. Eventually the women in his life leave and he’s left to drink away his sorrows in his empty trailer home. Frank has reached his Golden Years and he isn’t ready to be an old man. He’s forced to move in with his controlling daughter and spend time with his adult grandsons who make their living selling weed to the local hoodlums. Yeah, it’s about as good a time as you imagine it is.

Harry, Ricky, and Frank learn about an abandoned gold mine in the Chocolate Hills of Arizona. Millions of dollars in gold just waiting to be claimed, but the three can’t just walk to the mine and take it. (If so, it would be a very short book. “Three losers walk into mine and take the gold. End of story.” No one’s buying that book.) Before our heroes can dig for the gold, they first need to dive through an abandoned underwater ghost town to find the maps. Once they figure out where they are going, then they have to hike through an active military base, which specializes in blowing up anything and everything. But once they get through that, the gold is theirs, if they can find it and get it home.

Shaw makes you root for Harry, Ricky, and Frank. The three men have so much heart and determination that you find yourself cheering them on when the adventure gets rough. All three men have physical limitations: Harry’s leg was broken in an attempt to continue collecting on a worker’s comp claim; Ricky was in a horrible bus accident that severely disfigures his arm; and Frank is old, has cancer, and a heart condition. They don’t let these disabilities stop them from claiming what they believe is their gold.

The supporting characters are just as flawed as the hapless threesome. Frank’s daughter, whom he says is “Built like an angry bowling pin”, is hell bent on protecting her father and she doesn’t care who gets in her way. There are the soldiers the trio encounters while crossing the military base. (Things don’t
end well for some of the recruits.) And then there are Frank’s stoner grandsons. You’ll have to read the book to find out why these two are funny and endearing.
Everyone wants to cheer for the little guy, the David facing down Goliath. Johnny Shaw gives his readers three men that have been kicked around by Life and now it is their time to shine. They will take on the Big Maria mine, take what is theirs, and let Life know that there are some new bosses in town. I loved everything about this book. Shaw doesn’t give us superheroes, he gives us ordinary folks facing the crap hand that Life has dealt them. You cheer for these guys. You want them to get the gold. You want them to win.
And I want you to read BIG MARIA.

Kate Malmon