The Company Man is the unsettling second novel from Mr. Shivers author Robert Jackson Bennett. This is a book which, like its predecessor, Though it lacks some of the polish of Mr. Shiver, The Company Man draws the readers in just as capably. If you take the chance to crack open The Company Man, Bennett will trap you in his world, in his story and he will toy with you, with your emotions, and chances are you’ll relish it - Bennett has that talent. This is no perfect book, but its ability to tell a satisfyingly eerie and mysterious tale, in a way that will keep you hooked, is undeniable.
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.
The Company Man’s setting is, at first, deceptively like that of a steampunk novel or alternate history SF. This makes for a very interesting setting for a horror story, opening up more options, and as the thematic elements of a horror story slowly set in - the fear, the mystery, the gore, the tension, etc. - they are indeed strengthened by the setting. Add to that the entrancing simplicity of Bennett’s prose, and the result is an absorbing narrative, dark and ominous, but touching at the same time.
Despite being so strengthened by its creativity and difference, there is one story element with which Bennett seems to have taken one too many creative liberties. Without spoiling it, this was something that was both cheesy and overdone in this day and age and garnered a nice ‘WTF’ from me. I’m not going to lie, when this significant mystery was revealed if felt cheated. How could the writer behind Mr. Shivers, and the rest of this book, have come up with that.
Thankfully, this anger was only momentary. My faith in Bennett was restored when balanced this not-so-great plot element with some deft writing. He firstly takes away from the significance of this revelation in relation to the denouement, choosing rather to put the characters and the conclusion of their emotional journeys in the forefront for the last pages of the book.
Bennett also works in some appreciated and appropriate commentary. You have to give Bennett credit for being able to build characters that grow on you and for putting them in stories and situations that invite earnest emotional reactions as readers. He did the same in Mr. Shivers and in fact there are some similar themes in both that conduct emotional response well. Bennett proves himself a ruthless manipulator of reader’s emotions. By toying with the characters every so often he reminds us how much we’ve grown to care for them and he uses it to draw us in further into the world of Evesden.
In this respect, The Company Man is one of the most entrancing book’s I’ve had the chance to read. Even in the briefest of reading periods it grabs at you and pulls you into its world - its creepy. And so it should be, after all it is a horror novel. I’ve voiced many complaints about Bennett’s second book up to now, but I’d like to say right now that whatever problems it may have are made up for by the books strengths and especially by how it all ties up.
I had my qualms about The Company Man as I was reading it, but then I turned the last page of the book and was left with a deep sense of satisfaction that only comes from the reading of a well-crafted and emotionally moving novel. And that I think is a pretty fair way to judge a book: in its entirety. Sure, I felt the book had problems while I was reading it, but if in the end, having read it all, I like the book and can forget about its weaknesses (or put them to the side) then that’s what counts and it means that the journey is, ultimately, rewarding. So worth the read? I certainly think so...
My Rating: 4 out of 5
Reading Age: 16 and up
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