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The Company Man

Posted by Steve the Bookstore Guy On Friday, May 20, 2011

There is a scene in the show Deadwood that has stuck with us for years. A preacher has a seizure that ravages his brain. He can't do anything about it. He can't see straight. Can't hardly walk or talk. It gets to the point where he can't do anything. Enter Al Swearengen, the owner of a whorehouse, and an extremely unlikable fellow. It is one of the few moments in the show where Swearengen's exterior is stripped away and we are left seeing the anguish he feels at the preacher's condition. In a heart-breaking scene, Swearengen does what no one else is willing to do.

Why does that scene stick with us years after watching that episode? Because it was set up perfectly in character and setting. In Robert Jackson Bennett's THE COMPANY MAN, there was a scene near the end of the novel reminiscent of that Deadwood scene. It was at that clinching moment that the novel became truly an excellent and incredible read. It was at that moment that we realized just how well Bennett had pulled everything together.

THE COMPANY MAN is an alternate historical Science Fiction novel that takes place in 1919 in Evesdon, Washington. The McNaughton Corporation has grown from nothing into the worlds biggest and most important company. Their inventions have revolutionized everything. The novel, however, begins at a much simpler and basic level. A murder. The story follows three PoVs as they sift through the mystery of the murder, and what it actually means. The main character of the story is Cyril Hayes. He works for McNaughton as a security specialist. He also has an ability that borders on being psychic (an awesome ability that is strengthened by prolonged exposure and proximity to an individual). He is contacted by a Police Officer Donald Garvey to help figure out the details behind the murder. Samantha Fairbanks is also an employee of McNaughton whose job is to keep an eye on the erratic Hayes.

Bennett somehow makes each character extremely human, and intensely likable. It did take us a bit to warm up to the Samantha character, but by the end she was fantastic. Both Hayes and Garvey were awesome from start to finish, the former due to his ability and the latter due to his sense of honor.

While the characters were great, for us it was truly the setting that captivated us. Bennett does such an incredible job selling the setting of a super-advanced city that is also falling apart. From the stream-lined, impeccably clean interior of McNaughton to the varied types of slums of the sprawling city of Evesdon, it was utterly fascinating. There would be pages of description at a time, something that usually is a big turn-off for us. But Bennett's ability to perfectly relate the visual oddities of the city won us over within just a few pages.

This is neither a positive nor a negative, but due to the nature of the slow build-up mystery, and the high amounts of description, the novel was slowly paced. We know a few people would probably put it down due solely to this pacing. Don't be put off by it. Bennett writes incredibly well...honestly we are a tad jealous of his skill.

If there was one problem we had, it was with the ending. It's not that we didn't like the turn of events, or that we found it unforeshadowed (is that even a word? Regardless, the ending was foreshadowed fairly early on). It was all set up just fine. The problem is that the ending's tone seems a tad at odds with the rest of the book. The whole novel proceeds like a losing cause or a last-stand, yet the ending doesn't quite match that. It also seems like Bennett tried a bit too hard to have an overly mystical, thought provoking end. It wasn't bad, it just seemed a bit off.

Those small bothers aside, this was one of the most surprising books we have read in a long time. We attribute the majority of it to Bennett's skill with the written word. There was an awesome story here, with solid characters and some fabulous ideas...but it is Bennett's ability to sell it to the readers that really shines. The next novel Bennett puts out will be a day-one purchase for us. This is one author whose growth and career we are excited to follow.

Recommended Age:
Language: Lots
Violence: A few scenes that are just brutal. Again though, Bennett has a way of making them read sooooooo well
Sex: Talked about very frankly. We never actually get full details, which is nice, but it gets awful close to the line. There is also some discussion about a guy who does some pretty terrible things.

Check out Bennett's blog:


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