When Harry Schmittburger (imagine the nicknames!) hears about a gold mine in the middle of an Army Proving Ground in Arizona’s Chocolate Mountains, he knows he’s got to find a way to get to it. He recruits Frank Pacheco, an elderly Indian with cancer, and Ricky McBride, a bus driver who falls into an alcoholic stupor after the bus he drives is in a terrible accident, leaving him with a withered and useless arm and without his wife and daughter, to help him get to the Big Maria Mine. Unsurprisingly, hijinks ensue.
If Big Maria sounds like a novel with unusual characters and a plot that gets more insane with every page, then I’ve come close to describing it well. Also involved in the scheme, whether they know it or not, are Frank’s two grandsons, who grow pot and are high pretty much all of the time, along with their mother, a woman that everyone fears who is worried about her father, a former prison acquaintance of Harry’s, and two donkeys who add surprisingly well to the comedy.
While the trio comes together in an unusual manner, they become friends who genuinely care for each other, and their relationships are as compelling as their bumbling efforts to get to the gold, which include scuba diving in shark-infest waters, carrying around a severed head, and making their way across a minefield and through a barrage of gunfire.
Big Maria is an entertaining and fast read, even if the characters and plot are a little off the beaten path.