About the book
The year is 1919.
The McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. They built the guns that won the Great War before it even began. They built the airships that tie the world together. And, above all, they built Evesden-a shining metropolis, the best that the world has to offer.
But something is rotten at the heart of the city. Deep underground, a trolley car pulls into a station with eleven dead bodies inside. Four minutes before, the victims were seen boarding at the previous station. Eleven men butchered by hand in the blink of an eye. All are dead. And all are union.
Now, one man, Cyril Hayes, must fix this. There is a dark secret behind the inventions of McNaughton and with a war brewing between the executives and the workers, the truth must be discovered before the whole city burns. Caught between the union and the company, between the police and the victims, Hayes must uncover the mystery before it kills him.
This book was sent as a review copy by the publisher.
I was about fifty pages into The Company Man when I had some sort of epic epiphany. You see, until that point Robert J. Bennett reminded me of some other author, but I couldn’t place who. It was driving me crazy. Then, suddenly, it hit me. Robert J. Bennett reminds me of K.J. Parker.
Now, I know you are probably scratching your head and wondering what planet I just flew in from, but hear me out. No, their themes really have nothing in common, but the style does in some respects. If you look at K.J. Parker reviews on Goodreads, you’ll see rather divided opinions. People either love Parker or hate Parker. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground, and one of the reasons why is because a lot of people don’t think Parker is fantasy enough. Parker seems to straddle multiple lines, and people can’t really pin him/her down.
Exactly like Robert J. Bennett. People can’t pin him down, and I think that must drive some readers insane. Is he horror? Is he mystery? Noir? Fantasy? Gritty? Who knows. Bennett, like Parker, boldly does his own thing and blazes his own trail. I find that admirable, but some readers find it frustrating. Bennett isn’t really fantasy, but he’s not really anything else, either. He’s whatever he wants to be and I love that. I love his brazen ability to write powerful books without trying to box himself into any typical genre boxes.
The Company Man is no different from his other two books in that respect. In fact, I’m starting to realize that Bennett’s ability to confound readers who enjoy things neatly packaged is one of his calling cards and is, perhaps, one of the things I like best about him. When I pick up a book by Robert J. Bennett, I know it’s going to be completely and absolutely unique.
The Company Man follows the tale of Cyril Hayes who works for the sprawling McNaughton Company. Hayes stumbles upon a grisly murder scene and soon discovers that all is not what it seems. Secrets abound mixed with rising tensions between the workers and the executives in the company. In fact, The Company Man is incredibly atmospheric and Bennett leaves nothing out, from the problems those who live in Evesden face, to class issues, to struggles within the corporation itself and much more.
The world building is so vivid that the city of Evesden serves as a luscious backdrop for such a conspiracy filled book. This vivid world Bennett has created is a huge strength to the book by helping the events that transpire seem much more realistic and emotionally jarring than they otherwise would. Furthermore, being able to fully experience how certain events affect not only the main characters, but individuals who live in Evesden adds a level of depth to the book that I really enjoyed.
The Company Man reads like an odd mash up of American Gothic, Noir and some weird elements that are somewhat reminiscent of Neil Gaiman. There are fantasy elements, but a majority of the book is hardboiled detective circling around some pretty off-the-wall ideas. This is a book where Bennett really seems to let himself run free with a pretty interesting idea and he goes far with it. This isn’t just a fun book to read, but it’s really thoughtful. While events seem to speed ahead at a breakneck pace, Bennett never loses focus. The ending wraps things up nicely, closing up a wonderfully flowing, incredibly intricate plot.
Perhaps the only downside of this book was my inability to fully warm to the character Hayes. He’s a very well rounded, complex character, but throughout the book there was a wall between Hayes and me. He was interesting, but I could never quite get the feel of him the way I can with many other characters. Perhaps this was purposefully done by Bennett so the reader could discover more about Hayes as well as the plot as the book rolled forward, or maybe I just missed something along the way.
Despite that small setback, The Company Man is a solid book set in an amazingly vivid world with a complex, thought provoking plot and it’s yet another book by Bennett that refuses to fit into any one genre labeled box. Bennett is an author to watch.