Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Johnny Shaw is a hardass with a tender heart

Johnny Shaw is a Scott Phillips of the American Southwest, like Phillips setting his novels in bleak, flat landscapes, and populating them with dangerous, violent characters who, call them bad or call them immoral, are almost always endearingly human. Oh, and, like Phillips', his books will always make a reader laugh out loud while only rarely descending into jokiness.

What redeems Shaw's characters? Their cleverness, even when they seem stupid at first. Their self-knowledge, and the zest with which they screw up. The funny things they say without seeming to pat themselves on the back for being funny.

Here's a favorite example, all the more endearing because it occurs at what could be an awkward moment of truth between two characters, without undercutting the seriousness:
"`Look,' Buck Buck said, `I know you're used to sidekicking for Bobby and not me. And I'm used to Snout being my sidekick. But I'm sure we can work it out. Batman usually's got Robin, but I'm sure he teamed up with Aqualad or Speedy and they still beat the bad guy.'

"`Am I Aqualad in that scenario? I don't sidekick for Bobby,' I said. `I can't believe people can't see this. He's my sidekick. Which means you're Aqualad, I'm Batman.'

"`I'm really more of a leading man.'

"`Okay, how 'bout this? You're still Batman. I'll be Superman. They teamed up all the time. Snout and Bobby are the sidekicks.'

"`I can work with that. But I want to be Green Arrow instead.'"
You'd never guess the two are about to infiltrate a colony of dangerous bikers. Other things to like about Plaster City:
  • Like The Simpsons, it stands four-square for family values, a beautiful thing, despite the shameful appropriation of the term by political opportunists..
  • It condemns the exploitation of young women without, however, reducing the characters in question to titillating victimhood.
  • Like Shaw's novel Dove Season, it uses the word fiasco in the title, and I'm for anything that has fiasco in it.
(Read Detectives Beyond Borders' posts about Johny Shaw's Big Maria.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2014  

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Blogger Unknown said...

"•Like The Simpsons, it stands four-square for family values, a beautiful thing, despite Republicans' appropriation of the term."

Methinks you're being too hard in your generalization about Republicans. Perhaps you have reasons to be snarky about Republicans. Such is life.

As for "fiasco," it is one of those words with a euphony that contradicts its reality. Of course, I suppose does not always have to be a chaotic cacophony.

May 07, 2014  
Blogger Unknown said...

CORRECTION: Add "fiasco" between "suppose" and "does not"

May 07, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

R.T., you are absolutely right, and I have rewritten the sentence in question not to avoid offending Republicans, but simply to make it more accurate. I had first thought of writing "conservatives," then "certain socially conservative Republicans," then "certain politically opportunistic socially conservatives, many Republican," but then decided on a short form--the wrong one. Thanks for prodding me to ever higher standards of accuracy.

Yes, fiasco's euphony is beguiling. The word is apt for Johnny Shaw's books because, while good guys win in the end, they do not do so without first screwing up in a big way.

May 07, 2014  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


No mention of Jim Thompson? I see a pretty clear line from Thompson to Shaw, but via The Simpsons if you want.

Pretty much everyone banging on about family values on TV has got something to hide. The people with real family values just get on with the job of raising a family and dont go bragging about it as if theyve invented the cure for polio or something.

When I was a boy the Catholic Church in Ireland was always going on about preserving family values and we all know how that turned out.

May 08, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Could be, but I've read two of Shaw's novels and some of Shaw's stories, and I find humor a more prominent part of his work than of Thompson's. Shaw's humor also tends to be broader than Thompson's, which is very much of the deadpan type.

I'm glad awareness of Shaw has penetrated to Australia, speaking of which, yesterday's haul of books included a novel by one Zane Lovitt, who lives in Melbourne. Do you khow of him?

May 09, 2014  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


Zane is a new one on me. Although Melbourne has a pretty big crime writing community now and its getting bigger.

May 09, 2014  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The book is The Midnight Promise, and the publisher is Europa Editions. The opening is a take-off on the classic down-at-his-heels-PI-in-his-office, but with enough of a hard edge to make it interesting enough to make me buy the thing.

And yep, as discussed in this space, Melbourne has been a center of Australian crime writing since 1885.

May 09, 2014  

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