The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man by W. Bruce Cameron is the debut mystery featuring the perennially-disappointing repo man Ruddy McCann who begins to hear the voice of a murder victim in his head (available October 28, 2014).
I am deeply committed to a road to nowhere and can’t reverse course save by driving backward for at least four miles—I doubt my car would forgive me, and I know my neck wouldn’t. But that’s what my instincts are urging me to do: back up. Get out. Escape, an inner voice whispers.
Escape from what?
Ruddy McCann has a lot on his plate. The family bar is in dire financial straits. The crummy winter weather is interfering with his repo work. His love life is as empty as his wallet.
Oh—and he has a murder victim inside his head.
When Alan Lottner first speaks up, Ruddy thinks he’s finally cracking. Maybe he’s got the Repo Madness, as his boss suggests. Perhaps the stress has just become too much.
But the dream he had—of Alan’s murder, as seen through his eyes—and some digging reveals that the voice isn’t just his imagination. Alan really did exist and he really was murdered.
The question now is why. In life, Alan was the definition of a mild-mannered nobody. He always carefully ironed his pants, jogged every evening, and sold houses for a living. Who would want to kill a fussy realtor?
STILL NO SIGN OF LOCAL MAN, MISSING SINCE 11 OCT
This story was pretty brief, with little to say other than the fact that the local authorities were investigating the possibility of foul play but had no leads.
That was it. Flipping forward through the days on the microfiche eventually brought me to stories about the nursing home bombing, the worst crime in the history of the area. “I lived here for eighteen years, and when I was killed I got less coverage than a story about some kids spray-painting a trash dumpster behind Glen’s Market,” Alan groused.
The answer to who killed Alan Lottner (and why) proves layered, buried under a snarl of criminality and cover-ups in small town Michigan. As the spring thaw slowly approaches, so too does a murderous confrontation with the past.
W. Bruce Cameron—known for his previous feel-good novels told from man’s best friend’s point of view, A Dog’s Purpose and A Dog’s Journey—has created an unlikely hero in repo man Ruddy. Once the small town football legend, destined for NFL glory, Ruddy has fallen on extremely hard times. A stupid mistake several years ago sent him to prison and crushed his family’s dreams.
Now he struggles to simply make ends meet, encountering scorn at every turn and doing his best to make amends with his sister, who has taken over the family bar, The Black Bear. He’s a washed-up athlete gone to seed, trapped in a nowhere town with a population of two thousand.
“I know who you are,” he said finally.
It was my turn to say, “Yeah?”, so I did.
“You’re Ruddy McCann. Everybody used to look up to you. And then you let us down.”
“Well, sometimes that’s how these things go.”
“Now you steal cars for a living.”
I have to admit, it sounded less glamorous when he said it.
“You had everything anybody could ever want, and you pissed it away,” he continued. His eyes were cold and pitiless.
When everyone in the area knows how badly you messed up, and how pathetic you are now, it can be difficult to care about much of anything.
Which is where fussy, health-conscious Alan comes in. He may be nothing more than a disembodied voice now, but he refuses to let Ruddy sit on his laurels and mope. They’ve got a mystery to solve—his own murder—and he won’t be a passive passenger in Ruddy’s psyche.
It’s time for Mr. McCann to get off the sofa and start lifting rocks until something slithers into the light.
Of course, a situation such as this won’t be entirely smooth and straight-sailing. There are detours along the way when Ruddy’s best friend, Jesse, a handsome ladies man with a good heart and very little brains, gets mixed up in a checking fraud. Then Ruddy’s sister starts making eyes at Ruddy’s boss’s nephew, Kermit, a gullible guy with a ten dollar vocabulary (which is never accurate). And Ruddy himself crosses paths with a beautiful girl named Katie—who is more involved with Alan’s case than he ever could have predicted.
Knowing the only way to give Alan closure and get him out of his head—and keep him from taking control of his body when he falls asleep every night—is to solve the case, Ruddy tackles things in his customary straightforward manner. When they identify the murderers, he doesn’t hesitate to walk straight up to the men and drop some very obvious hints that he knows exactly what they did that long ago summer.
Naturally that blows up in his face big time, and the climax is a fraught and dirty scramble to protect his loved ones and get his, and Alan’s, bacon out of the fire. It all creates a breakneck pace in the last forty pages, as we speed through the madness alongside our heroic repo man.
Cameron has created a motley cast of characters in this, his first mystery outing. Anyone who’s lived in a small town recognizes the folks: Claude and Wilma, the ever-bickering couple with grandiose schemes to con their way out of the sticks and into the ranks of the rich and famous; trigger-happy redneck assholes like the colorfully named Albert Einstein Croft; and cops with over-inflated egos—and waistlines—like Deputy Timms.
Ruddy’s an interesting narrator, coloring his observations with local flavor and definitively masculine opinions. He and Alan are quite the Odd Couple, with the latter often critiquing the former on his diet and unwillingness to floss. And the whole “invisible passenger” situation leads to some pretty funny miscommunication and social faux pas.
The Midnight Plan of the Repo Man is a solid mystery, with enough action and dramatic revelations to keep everything humming at a steady pace. The details of Ruddy’s past add a melancholic tinge to things, and Alan’s murder is obviously a sore spot, but things never get too dark or maudlin. There’s even a dash of romance.
If you’re in the mood for some kooky characters, a clever twist on the “investigating partners” trope, and some light intrigue, Cameron has delivered a pretty satisfying debut mystery—and he promises this won’t be the last we see of Ruddy, so it’ll be interesting to see where the repo man goes from here.
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Angie Barry wrote her thesis on the socio-political commentary in zombie films. Meeting George Romero is high on her bucket list, and she has spent hours putting together her zombie apocalypse survival plan. She also writes horror and fantasy in her spare time, and watches far too much Doctor Who. You can find her at Livejournal.com under the handle “zombres.”
Read all posts by Angie Barry at Criminal Element.