Just finished reading The Company Man by Robert Bennett. Robert Bennett is such an impressive author, he’s got no shortage of imagination, he’s a great story teller and oh boy can he set the scene. Not to mention you cannot pin this guy down. Mr Shivers for example, was it horror, was it fantasy? The Company Man is it a dark and gritty detective, is it sci-fi/conspiracy. I don’t know. These are not the sort of books that you can read and then just simply say ‘this is ‘fantasy’ or this is ‘horror’. Like I said, very difficult to pin down which is something of a talent I think.
So, The Company Man. On the face of it appears to be a dark, gritty detective novel. We have a sprawling metropolis where the ever widening gap between the have and have not’s yawns like a deep abyss. The City has grown and with it’s success have come the flocks of people desperately seeking work. Shanty towns and ramshackle slums are rife and crime is high. Very high indeed. This is how we start the novel with a dead body and a jaded and tired cop trying to find the pieces of the puzzle.
On the jacket the description reads ‘a trolley car pulls into the station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before the factory workers were seen boarding at the previous station, now all are dead. And all of them are Union’. Now firstly, this particular event doesn’t happen until a good third into the story. The earlier chapters certainly bring us a dead body and a mystery but then we’re drawn into a world of conspiracy. Of darkness and company manoeuvring. We see the big corporate men with the games they play and at the other end we see the workers, the masses, used and abused but becoming disillusioned with their lives and the treatment they receive. Trouble is brewing.
I won’t really go into the plot too much. It definitely has the noir detective feel. The world, an alternative America during the early 1900s where Evesden has become the centre of the world due to it’s revolutionary inventions (in fact helping to deter World War II). Inventions created by a huge Corporate giant called McNaughton. Okay this isn’t the depression but it certainly is a grim time in which to live. Then, just when you’re sucked into this seedy little world of murder and deception Bennet starts to pull new elements out of the bag. Creepy, hair raising things.
Without a doubt, and not in any way a detraction to the story, the most outstanding two elements of this book are Bennett’s ability to create a world that will suck you in and his ability to create characters that all but live and breathe. Evesden is so easy to imagine. Bennett pulls you into this world to an extent where you can picture it really quite vividly and then on top of that he populates it with a range of characters that are either intriguing, likeable, hateful or just plain nasty. The main three characters are the sad detective Garvey, the Corporation guy-mr-fixit Hayes and his new assistant Samantha (brought in to try and curtail his waywardness). Hayes has his own special abilities. Abilities that over the years he has used to help the company and also sometimes put to use helping what appears to be his only friend Garvey in helping to solve the relentless stream of crime. But these three are by no means the only characters. The supporting cast are equally well drawn and easy to picture.
I will mention that I think you need to give this book your attention, there’s a very thorough story going on and i think you need to pay it respect and if you do so you will be rewarded by being pulled into Evesden.
Now, at the risk of sounding repetitive this is dark! there are the odd moments of light here and there but they’re fairly few and far between (in fact there’s probably about two of them – only kidding!) I wouldn’t particularly recommend this as a beach read (although I would read it on the beach – just might not be the choice for some people, actually scrap that – I don’t really do beaches but I would read this when on holiday). Also, as I mention above, if you want your story to fit into a box then just forget it. But, I would recommend that you don’t just forget it – give it a go! But if you can’t abide a bit of difference going on and you want everything to be clear cut then this also may not be for you. Again, personally, I would just say get over that and give it a go, perhaps this will be the story that turns your opinion on it’s head. It’s got this whole conspiracy thing going on, there’s a good deal of ‘what the hell is going on’ thoughts circulating and on top of that there’s this whole X-files thing permeating the story.
I would recommend this, if you like a bit of intrigue, a well told story, and don’t mind your reading being on the dark side!
The Company Man