Monday, July 23, 2012

Book Review - The Company Man

The Company Man – Robert Jackson Bennett
The Company Man
Three books to the good and RJB is already viewed as a class author. His stock is steadily growing and his name is popping up more and more. I loved his first book (Mr Shivers) and enjoyed his third book (The Troupe) even more. The Company Man is his second book and whilst the premises of the other books grabbed my attention immediately, the sci-fi noir feel of the Company Man did not. The genre is not really me.
Nevertheless, on the strength of the other books the Company Man definitely deserved a chance.
The Blurb:
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.

The year is 1919. The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built airships that crossed the seas. Guns that won the Great War. And above all, they built Evesden: the city of tomorrow, dominated by the immense McNaughton Tower. But something is rotten at the heart of Evesden and one man must uncover its dark secret before it all goes up in flames.

Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, McNaughton investigator Cyril Hayes must find the truth behind the city of the future. Because if he doesn't . . . he's history.
I shouldn’t have worried. Stylistically, the Company Man is very different to the other books but the writing is just as compelling. The Blurb is actually misleading, as the event that takes place in the blurb does not occur for quite some time into the novel. Instead RJB concentrates on developing his world and more importantly his characters.
When I think of Crime Noir, I think of a man in a trench coat dispatching smart quips to every character he interacts with. Not bad but all a bit samey. RJB avoids this cliché and instead opts for a far more flawed and to some extent unpleasant protagonist in Hayes. That is not to say Hayes is unlikeable, far from it. He has his own charm but in general he is a loner and disliked by the other characters in the novel, oh and he is also an alcoholic. It is impossible not to be in these type of novels it seems.
Another thing that separates Hayes from your typical noir stereotype is his limited telepathic ability. He is almost able read people’s minds if he is around them long enough. This is a nice supernatural power as it gives him an advantage over others, but it is also fallible.  
Samantha and Garvey the other main characters are a bit more endearing. Samantha is naive, attracted by the promise of a better life with the Company and the bright lights of Evesden itself. She is fooled by her expectations and becomes disenchanted with the place. On the flip side she very intelligent and talented and it is these traits the Company exploit in order to ensure she keeps Hayes on a leash.
Garvey on the other hand is a jaded cop with strong morals. He is Hayes’ only true friend and this alienates him somewhat from his colleagues and peers.
The three make for an interesting dynamic. RJB wastes little time on the typical I-don’t-like-you-but-I-will-by-the-end-of-the-novel storyline and instead plunges into exploring their difficult relationship as they struggle to understand their methods of working whilst obviously respecting each other at the same time.
The city of Evesden is well described. RJB gets across nicely the cities nuances as it expanded out of nothing and struggled to contain the increase in populace and technology. For every impressive building there is a shanty town. The city comes across as a complete mishmash of ideas and has a rich if short history.
The Company (McNaughton Corporation) itself is suitably shady. Enough is revealed so that the reader suspects everyone’s motives but the mystery of what if anything is truly going on is kept firmly in check. This makes for an enjoyable ride.
As the plot is slowly revealed, it is clear not everything is black and white – so much for the noir novel. I certainly didn’t guess the direction of the novel and was satisfied by the conclusion.
The best way to sum up RJB’s career so far is to draw comparisons to the first three M Night Shylaman films. All have been terrific and although they explore similar themes were about very different subject matters. The Company Man very much resembles Unbreakable in that it may not be the most popular of the three but is well respected and is many people’s favourite.
My rating: 8.7