It occurs to me that the protein, starch, sugar and caffeine found my favorite snack (coffee with cream and a jelly doughnut) are a metaphor for the ingredients of a satisfying summer book.
Think about it. You want the body-building protein of an interesting premise, clever plot and quirky characters, humor to give it some starch, a little romance thrown in for sweetness, and let’s not forget the caffeine-jolt of suspense.
You’ll find all of these in W. Bruce Cameron’s “The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man,” which offers up a delectable tale by combining fantasy, mystery and romance, three genres sure to please.
The setting is the small town of Kalkaska, Michigan, in that cold, gray and seemingly endless season between the area’s long winters and fleeting springs, and it perfectly mirrors the situation of Ruddy McCann, our narrator. Once a high school football star with a promising career ahead, Ruddy, now 30, has fallen on hard times. Out of shape, lonely and plagued by the guilty memory of a tragedy that landed him in prison for vehicular homicide, Ruddy ekes out a living as a repo man and part-time bouncer at the Black Bear Bar, a failing establishment owned by his younger sister, Becky. His only friends are his lazy, middle-aged mutt, Jake, and Jimmy Growe, a world-class babe-magnet. Jimmy is a sweet guy, but dumber than a sack of rocks.
And Ruddy’s life is about to get worse. After having a terrifyingly realistic nightmare about being killed, he starts to hear a voice in his head. At first, he thinks he’s gone crazy — the victim of what Milt, his boss, calls “Repo Madness,” brought on by the stress and fear that come from taking vehicles away from angry and often armed men who have welched on their car payments.
But it turns out the voice that has taken up residence in Ruddy’s body belongs to one Alan Lottner, a missing realtor. What’s more, Ruddy’s nightmare is actually Alan’s memory of his own murder. Alan wants justice, and it’s up to Ruddy to find and unmask the killers. Who could ask for a tastier plot premise?
Ruddy and Alan make for an interesting, if ill-matched pair. Ruddy can be impulsive, sloppy, and insensitive at times, but he’s also very sincere and caring. For example, he helps his buddy, Jimmy, when the latter becomes the victim of check-cashing scam, and he has refused to restart his football career because he feels his success would hurt the family of the young girl he inadvertently killed in a car accident. Alan, on the other hand, is a logical, rather prissy neatnik, and is very sensitive. He’s also a health nut, and when Ruddy’s asleep, Alan takes the body they share on long runs. Both men love their families. Ruddy is very protective of his sister, and Alan particularly rues not having been able to watch his daughter grow up. As they learn, grudgingly, to co-exist, some of Alan rubs off on Ruddy, and vice-versa.
A gaggle of wacky characters adds liberal dashes of humor. Claude and Wilma Wolfinger’s ridiculous get-rich-quick schemes are more than funny. But my favorite odd-ball is Kermit, the nephew of Ruddy’s boss. A male version of Mrs. Malaprop, Kermit couldn’t summon up the correct word if his life depended on it. When, in a hilarious scene, Ruddy is attacked by a pet goose while trying to repossess a pick-up truck, Kermit suggests that the bird (whose name is Doris) be “euphemized.” Later, when Ruddy complains of aches and pains, Kermit tells him to go to a “misogynist” for a massage.
A lot of the book’s laugh-out-loud humor also is due to the fact that Alan can only hear Ruddy if Ruddy speaks aloud to him, and of course, Ruddy is the only one who can hear Alan. Many of these conversations take place in public, causing people to think Ruddy is a gibbering idiot, or worse. Likewise, for Alan, being able to see and read only through Ruddy’s eyes is a little like watching a movie shot with a hand-held camera. This often makes Alan feel queasy, and he’s always begging Ruddy to slow down.
“Repo Man” is also spiced up with a little romance, which comes to Ruddy in the form of a charming young woman named Katie. But wooing her is not without its problems. For one thing, she’s almost engaged to a loutish cop; for another, we eventually discover that Katie is Alan’s daughter. As you might imagine, it’s hard for a fellow to kiss a girl when her father’s watching. Although their growing attraction is only a small part of the story, I found myself rooting for Ruddy to finally have some happiness.
Adding to the already delicious feast Cameron serves up in “Repo Man” are, of course, generous lashings of suspense. Will Ruddy solve his and everyone else’s problems? Will he beat out his rival and win Katie’s love? Will he and Alan track down the murderers? Our questions are answered, but let me tell you, the final confrontation between the good guys and the killers is filled with teeth-clenching scariness that takes us back to Ruddy’s horrific dream.
Like my favorite snack, many summer reads tend to be full of empty calories and can even induce a sense of guilt in those who consume them. But because “Repo Man” has some substance, it won’t rot your teeth or your brain. So dig in and enjoy this wildly original book with a clear conscience.