Plaster City: A Jimmy Veeder Fiasco
I have read reviews of PLASTER CITY that compare author Johnny Shaw to Elmore Leonard. His work surely has a bit of Leonard in its heritage, but it also puts me in the mind of Joe R. Lansdale. I’ve been reading Shaw from the beginning, which really wasn’t all that long ago, starting with the promise of DOVE SEASON, his debut novel (and the first Jimmy Veeder Fiasco) that was matched and far exceeded by the award-winning BIG MARIA. Those worthy books, however, turned out to be the warm-up for PLASTER CITY, which blows the doors off the hinges and the roof off of whatever impressions you might have of the talented Mr. Shaw. This is one of the best books of 2014, all wrapped up in shredded paper and a faded bow.
Jimmy Veeder is a couple of giant steps above a desert rat, an honest farmer eking out a somewhat hardscrabble existence in the no-man’s land area near the California-Mexico border. Jimmy is like The Hulk --- he just wants to be left alone. That’s not exactly accurate, though; he just wants to be left alone to live quietly with his young son and very patient significant other, keeping bodies and souls together. Such a goal is difficult to achieve, however, when one has a friend like Bobby Maves, who has a penchant for involving Jimmy in his alcohol-fueled problems. Jimmy’s tragic flaw is that he can’t say “no” to Bobby, or at least say “no” and make it stick. They’re friends, closer than brothers in some ways, and that means something to Jimmy, who sees in Bobby his mirror image of a rough-edged, stand-up guy.
"PLASTER CITY...blows the doors off the hinges and the roof off of whatever impressions you might have of the talented Mr. Shaw. This is one of the best books of 2014, all wrapped up in shredded paper and a faded bow."
When Julie, Bobby’s teenage daughter, goes missing, Bobby asks Jimmy for help in hunting her down and retrieving her. Jimmy knows his share of lowlifes on both sides of the border, and using his ragtag network, he eventually learns that Julie is buried so deep in trouble that she needs to have sunlight pumped down to her. Rescuing her is going to be extremely difficult with a sky-high barrier of Mexican crime lords, wannabe criminal entrepreneurs, and assorted and sundry hangers-on in the way. Still, the biggest obstacle to rescuing Julie might be Julie herself and her relationship with Bobby.
First, however, Jimmy and Bobby have to find her, which is a tough call over hundreds of square miles of desert. Jimmy engages in his own brand of detective work as he and Bobby sustain significant damage to themselves and dish it out as well, following a trail to the middle of nowhere that ends in Plaster City, where a cataclysmic three-way throwdown ends in a payout with many losers and very few winners.
PLASTER CITY is told in Jimmy Veeder's laconic, homespun voice, one that sees humor in the present and tragedy around the corner in equal measure. There is plenty of action and violence here, though none of it is gratuitous. Jimmy's world is fraught with danger, exacerbated by his choice of companions. That said, I was laughing my head off before I even finished the first page and never stopped until near the conclusion, where Shaw gives you an ending you might never see coming but surely should have expected. This guy has the goods. His next book, whether it be a sequel, a stand-alone work, or a compilation of his liquor store shopping list for the past five years, can’t happen quickly enough for me.
Put this book on your read-next list, then on your re-read shelf. And if you are in the habit of writing down turns of phrase, metaphors, and the like that you encounter in novels, forget the spiral notebook. Buy a ledger. You’ll need it. Seriously. Not to mention a six-hour block of time to read this mother all at once.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on May 2, 2014