THE MIDNIGHT PLAN OF THE REPO MAN (2014)
W. Bruce Cameron
Forge Books, 334 pages
* * * *
I’ve wanted to read this novel for quite a while, but the library wait list was so long I simply bought a copy. Now I understand why the demand is so high. The Midnight Plan isn’t exactly path-breaking literature, but it sure is a satisfying read. It is, at turns, social commentary, a ghost story, a murder mystery, a romance, and a black comedy. It’s also surprisingly well plotted (even when implausible) for a writer hitherto known mainly as a humor writer specializing in dog/human connections and disconnections.
The book’s protagonist is Ruddy McCann, a former college football superstar destined for an NFL career. That dream disintegrated in a single bad night in which circumstance, poor judgment, and bad luck aligned in a perfect storm. Now he’s 30, single, and living in the backwater town of Kalkaska, Michigan, in an unkempt bachelor pad he shares with an elderly dog named Jake. The bright lights of the NFL have given way to late nights: Ruddy is a repo man for a local collector/small-time operator, and doubles as a bouncer and co-manager at his sister Becky's not-very-successful bar and club. Shall we say that neither job is anyone’s idea of the fast track? Ruddy has become, simultaneously, an object of pity and a big fish in a small pond that includes characters such as malaprop-prone Kermit; hunky, dumb-as-a-brick and naïve-as-a-kitten Jimmy; and the lovely Katie, who may or may not be interested in Ruddy.
As we learn, Ruddy’s repo work—mostly cars in auto-crazed/cash-poor/post-industrial Michigan—is a combination of dullness, danger, tact, daring, and sleaziness. It’s fueled by adrenaline and caffeine and it's so stressful that it has its own associated malady: “Repo Madness,” a variety of slow nervous breakdown marked by squirrely behavior, insularity, and under-the-breath muttering. Ruddy is pretty sure he has it when a voice appears in his head and claims to be that of Alan Lottner, a dead realtor who has no idea how he has come to be inside Ruddy’s body. Alan becomes a combination mentor, superego, nag, and major inconvenience, but somebody needs to help Ruddy think beyond his next repo job. And, as it turns out, Alan needs Ruddy’s help as well––he’s pretty sure he was murdered, but by whom and why? There’s your murder mystery connection, and Cameron spins a dizzy little swirl that involves swindle, infidelity, real estate, and small-town graft.
Of course, none of Cameron’s tale is pure fantasy. This book isn’t intended to be anything other than what it purports to be: a frothy read. Cameron concocts memorable characters about whom we care, even though we know that their circumstances are implausible and the action set-ups equally improbable. People do really dumb stuff in this book, but we appreciate it, because we harbor gnawing suspicions that our own foibles are only a few degrees separated from theirs. Ruddy thinks he does his best repo work after midnight, though we quickly discover that’s part of the self-deception he needs to jettison. But then there’s Ruddy’s Alan Lottner alter ego to remind us that we’re often not the best judges of our own strengths and weaknesses. Credit Cameron for making us laugh at all of this.
I ripped through this book like it was a package of opened Oreos sitting beside a glass of milk. Add this one to your summer-read list. Take it to the beach, curl up on your beach chair like lazy old Jake, and gobble it. Rob Weir