Nothing cements the bonds of a new relationship like a criminal endeavor, not that I have any personal experience with that particular dating strategy. It does, however, seem to work for the protagonists of Ann McMan’s latest romantic comedy adventure, The Big Tow. Being a fan of the masterfully titled Beowulf for Cretins, I was looking forward to this read, and I wasn’t disappointed.
As a low level attorney in a high-powered firm, Vera “Nick” Nicholson has many onerous duties for clients, including being asked to find a luxury car belonging to one of their clients without benefit of law enforcement. She finds Fast Eddie and The National Recovery Bureau and, with their assistance, recovers the car. She also finds she has a taste for repo work. When the law firm fires her, she goes to work for Fast Eddie, who pairs her with Frances “Frankie” Stohler, a third grade teacher supplementing her income. Their capers soon turn into much more, and Nick and Frankie find themselves in love. And in lots of trouble—because the cars they thought they were repossessing, they were stealing.
Much of my reading lately has been Important Books for an LGBTQ award I’m judging. Much serious. Many trauma. Heartbreak and irony abounding. So, when the McMan title came up in the TBR-for-the-blog pile, my mood immediately rose. I devoured it in two or three sittings, I think. I smiled, I laughed, I drooled over the food descriptions, then I let out a deeply satisfied sigh before plunging back into strife and agony. It rarely works out that way, but who’s to say a romantic comedy shouldn’t have the same weight as Important Books? Oh sure, they do to you and me, but they don’t win awards, and that’s criminal. Is a good laugh less cathartic than a good cry? Who makes that determination using what criteria?
It certainly couldn’t be writing, because McMan has that base covered. She uses all her mad skills to summon seedy Southern strip-mall gothic at its best. The atmosphere she creates is perfect for the off-kilter action that follows. It couldn’t be character, because freewheeling Frankie is a perfect foil for the more conservative Nick. They’re both fully developed and rounded characters—can’t scrimp there. Character is the soul of comedy. And speaking of characters, the National Recovery Bureau’s office manager, Antigone Reece, is a hoot. Part schoolmarm, part Christian shyster, she’s just the thing to keep Fast Eddie tethered to the business.
It couldn’t be the plot, either. McMan has constructed a sturdy framework of fast-paced capers and outrageous steals that border on impossible but somehow manage to get accomplished. Nothing is out of frame or drags, and the explanations all fit. Everything is tied up nicely by the end, the HEA takes place, and all’s right with the world.
Except why this isn’t an Important Book. Probably for the same reasons that Young Frankenstein didn’t win an Academy Award for Best Picture. We always seem to overlook what we need most—a good laugh. So forget the Important Books for a while and get back to the essentials with Ann McMan and The Big Tow. You could use a laugh right now, huh?
© 2021 Jerry L. Wheeler