the Little Red Reviewer

The Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett

Posted on: December 26, 2012

bennett_company-man-hcThe Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett

published in 2011

where I got it: received ARC from the publisher

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In an alternate early 1900s, in an amazing metropolis in the Pacific Northwest, a new industrial revolution has begun. In Evesden, The McNaughton Corporation holds patents for the most amazing technologies, everything from airships to subterannean trolleyways, to telecommunications. The Corporation holds their secrets dear, and at times has held the world hostage, and that same world flocks to Evesden and the McNaughton Corporation with dreams of a better life and a career with the company that is reinventing the world.

Found in an Indian prison and given a life of luxury in Evesden is McNaughton’s most valuable employee, a Mr Cyril Hayes.  Hayes works from the shadows, making the corporations problems disappear. He spies, he blackmails, he knows better than to ask questions of his superiors, and they know better than to try to keep him out of the opium dens or to let on that they know he shares information with the cops.

Hayes’ newest assignment comes with an assistant, the young and sheltered Samantha Fairbanks. She’s his secretary, but she’s also supposed to keep him under control and out of trouble. Their mission is to interview employees suspected of Union organization. No arrests, no threats,  no mention of Unions, just talk about how everything has been going lately.  Hayes sits in on the interviews, but he isn’t really listening. At least, not with his ears. There’s a reason Hays lives alone in a giant warehouse, there’s a reason he’s anti-social, there’s a reason he escapes into hazes of opium and alcohol.  The longer Hayes spends with someone, the more the person’s thoughts invade his mind. It becomes easier and easier for Hayes to talk like that person, act and walk like that person, become that person’s new best friend, their confidant, their confessor.  Hayes can count on one hand the number of people who know about his ability.

the way people react to Hayes when they find out what he can do gave certain scenes almost and X-Men type feeling for me.  Hayes closest friend Inspector Garvey is completely accepting of the fact that Hayes can “read minds”, while Hayes’ supervisor refuses to be close quarters with him for more than a few minutes. Others respond with anger, disgust and fear. There’s a point where in the eyes of the company Hayes ceases to be an employee, and becomes a thing, a tool, a weapon, a closely guarded and dangerous secret. The saddest thing, is that he knows it.

Hayes aside, it’s not all sunshine in Evesden.  In the last year the murder rate has skyrocketed, as has unemployement, petty crime, and general distrust of McNaughton and all it stands for. Does this Union organization business have anything to do with the uptick in murders?

The Company Man starts out as a noir-ish mystery, but quickly turns into something much more eerie.  Hayes’ investigation in Union activity goes nowhere but the bodies start piling up, and he soon begins to suspect something else is going on. With his abilities and Samantha’s analytical mind, can they figure out what’s going on?  McNaughton owns everything, controls everything, why should Hayes risk his life and Samantha’s to save the skins of a few angry Union sympathizers?

Although not a fast paced book, I couldn’t put The Company Man down.  Little snippets here and there hint at secrets and much strangeness in the founding and building of the corporation –  whisperings from engineers that the machines needed to be redesigned before they could be used, rumors of deep subterranean structures filled with secret machines that speak to the engineers. Bennett tells the story from a few different points of view, so the reader gets an idea of what’s going on much quicker than the characters do, because we’re aware of so much more.  

I desperately wanted Hayes to put the pieces together, but for his safety and his sanity a part of me wanted him to give up on the whole thing. In the same breath I wanted him to step forward towards the truth, and run away to safety.  Hayes knows the company uses him as they would any other tool. He knows his employers are as intrigued by him as they are disgusted and fearful.  Sometimes paycheck is just another word for addiction.

The slower pace of the plot allows Bennett more time to build on the secrets of Evesden. There is some very, very wrong here, and it’s not long before things take a sharp turn for the unexpectedly weird.  Hayes knows something is going on, but the truth is beyond his wildest guesses.  The book isn’t perfect (Bennett has certainly honed his craft since, with the amazing The Troupe), but the author’s prose flows with ease, drawing the reader further and further into a situation that gets more unnerving by the page.

Bottom line, if you aren’t reading Robert Jackson Bennett, you are missing out on one of our generations newest and brightest talents.  Bennett doesn’t bash the reader over the head with anything, his presentation is subtle and compelling, allowing the readers imagination to take over.  I’ve Bennett’s newest, American Elsewhere, waiting for me, and I can’t wait to dive in.

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2 Responses to "The Company Man, by Robert Jackson Bennett"

oohhhh! You’ve got the newest. Can’t wait for that review. I really enjoyed The Company Man and Mr Shivers but The Troupe was just excellent.
Lynn :D

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The Troupe was absolutely amazing, and I still need to get my hands on a copy of Mr. Shivers. Drooling over American Elsewhere has already begun!

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