The Company Man by Robert J Bennett

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

The Company Man

Mr Shivers by Robert J Bennett

Posted On 27 May 2012

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Just finished reading Mr Shivers by Robert J Bennett.

I recently read the Troupe by RJB and loved it so made the decision to go back and revisit his earlier works.  Strangely enough I already had Mr Shivers sat waiting on my shelves which is his debut novel (I really must take a better look at my wbr pile!)

Mr Shivers is set in 30s America during the depression.  It’s primarily the story of Connelly.  Connelly’s daughter has been murdered and he is bent on revenge and is following the murderer across America during the Depression.  Along the way he meets up with other people whose lives have been equally affected by this strange person who becomes known as Mr Shivers and who are equally hell-bent on revenge.

I thought this was an intriguing story made more compelling by the use of setting.  I haven’t come across a lot of stories set during this period and it was interesting to read about.  I have no idea about how accurate this work is but it read well and I have to say that Bennett is a great story teller.  The opening chapters are excellent and really pull you in and keep you reading.  It’s a gritty novel.  Gritty and dark.  There aren’t any fun moments going on to be honest but given what these people are going through and the lives they are reading you wouldn’t expect there to be.  There’s violence and profanity all over the place but none of it feels out of place or gratuitous.  As we follow Connelly’s journey across the country, hitching rides on trains and sleeping rough we gradually start to gain more of a feeling for Mr Shivers and he really is quite a horrifying creature who is gradually built up, through word of mouth and stories along the way, into something more than just a man – something evil and untouchable.

What I thought was really interesting about this story was watching a group of (ever expanding it seemed) characters come together in pursuit of the same goal.  And yet, for me, all of them seemed oblivious to the fact that they were setting themselves on a road to self-destruction.  Along the way a couple of characters realised that they were becoming less than human as they pursued their own objective but most of them continued and frankly it was quite horrible to simply watch them become almost monsters themselves.

Then we have Connelly who is a character that you can’t help but like to a certain extent.  He isn’t perfect by a long stretch but he’s strong and forceful.  He has a certain presence which is undeniable and undoubtedly he is a leader who the others look up to and follow.  The other characters I don’t think you ever really have a chance to become too involved with.  It’s the Connelly show really.  Well, that and Mr Shivers.

In terms of criticisms.  Well, there’s a bit in the middle where for some reason the story isn’t quite as compelling.  The beginning is really great.  The middle is a little stilted and I can only put this down to the change in tack really.  During the middle we seem to go through much more of an action period which somehow sat a little bit ill with the rest of the story.  And then the latter half of the book changed direction again taking on a more eerie supernatural feel.  Yes, this book is a mixed bag.  Now, I actually enjoyed this – I liked the whole supernatural feel that was taken on but it’s not for everyone I imagine.  The only other criticism is that I could see what was going on between Connelly and Mr Shivers.  Not immediately I confess, but once I’d seen it everything else had a certain feel of inevitability to it, not necessarily a bad thing, I’m just saying.

Other than that I thought this was a good read.  It’s dark.  It’s a bit horrible.  It’s definitely creepy.  It has elements of the unreal to it.  Are there witches?  Are there ghouls? Does the Bogeyman exist?  Maybe….

I would recommend this, I don’t think it’s as good as The Troupe, but for a debut novel it’s pretty damned impressive.  I love a good storyteller and will definitely go seek out The Company Man next – then I’ll be waiting to see what RJB does next – no pressure of course!

Mr Shivers

Mr Shivers

The Troupe by Robert J Bennett

Just finished reading the Troupe by Robert J Bennett.  This book is without a doubt, not a shadow of it, brilliant.  It is going on the list.  If this book isn’t on best of year lists for many, many people, come the end of 2012 then all I can say is that (a) what is wrong with everyone!  or  (b) we must have had some damn fine books for the rest of the year.  This read is intriguing, it’s compelling and I will just say, by way of warning, don’t pick this up unless you can put your life on hold and dedicate a few days to it whilst ignoring all your friends, family, work, dogs, social life, etc, etc.  You get the picture.

This book tells the story of George, he’s part of a Vaudeville act.  He’s a whizz on the piano.  He’s desperately searching for something but pretty soon he’s going to be desperately running from something too.  It’s a coming of age novel in a very unique setting and told by an amazing story teller.   I’m basically not going to tell anything about the plot of this book.  It needs to be original and fresh.  Plenty of books, and films, are surrounded by hype and don’t live up to them.  This one should be smothered in hype because it delivers.  I loved it. Did I say that already?

Okay, not talking about the plot, so what else.  The start.  It just pulls you in.  It’s beguiling.  It puts a spell on you.  You want to know what’s going on.  The characters – they’re a rich bunch, George is by no means the best character – actually Silenus is definitely my favourite.  The whole idea of this Vaudeville show – it’s so interesting to read about, we get a little glimpse into this type of life but in a way which is unreal and unnerving..

On top of that, we have fantasy.   Such great imagination.  There are bits of everything in here.  I don’t know even know what genre you can put this into and that’s what makes it so great.  No boxes.  There are lots of things that this puts me in mind of – definitely Neverwhere, Labyrinth, Strange and Norrell, The book of Lost Things and other books so numerous that I won’t bore you, but whilst it conjures them all to mind it isn’t like any of them.  It’s original.  I was reading it and it was evoking memories of other novels but it wasn’t making me think it was a carbon copy, it just simply made me think of them.

Other elements – creepiness, gothic storytelling, elements of horror.  Hair standing up on the back of your neck wondering why you sat up so late to read by yourself and now you’re the last one up and have to turn the lights off.  All I can say is the Puppets!

Do I have any criticisms.  Maybe if I thought about it really hard I might conjure something up, pull the rabbit out of the hat.  But, nothing springs to mind right now.

I love this book and I think everybody should read it.  Highly recommended.

The Troupe

The Troupe

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