Thursday, July 5, 2012

Did Not Finish: The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett

Normally I wouldn’t write about a book I didn’t finish reading.  Earlier this year I attempted Count to a Trillion and The Difference Engine.  But with both of them I only got about 50 pages in and decided they were not for me at the time.  I still intend to return to them.  The Company Man, however, is a different matter.  It has joined the club along with Anna Karenina and Quicksilver: books that started out interesting, that I got more than halfway through, then gave up in frustration.  With The Company Man I read up to page 361 of a 454 page book.  I think I’ve earned my right to talk about it.  And this is how mad I am at it.  I can’t even be bothered to write my own summary so I’ll include the one from Goodreads:

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 is an alternate history.  The McNaughton Corporation brought a lot of advanced technology to the world that they prevented WWI and there are now airships in 1919.  This book is also a thriller, with union workers and whether they are sabotaging factories on their own or on the orders of some mysterious union leader named Mickey Tazz.  It’s also a murder/mystery with an unsolved murder in the beginning, as well as the trolley full of dead union workers that shows up.  There’s also a paranormal element with Cyril Hayes and his special talent and some strange, shadow/ghost creature that appears and a mysterious red object that falls from the sky.  And there are the secret inventions McNaughton is working on... I think we've got genre overload here.

And I guess we’re supposed to care about the following three people:  Detective Donald Garvey, the street-wise, divorced detective.  Samantha Fairbanks, the ingenue brought in my McNaughton to work with and rein in Cyril Hayes.

I really don't know what I'm supposed to think about them with what we're given about these three:

Hayes, is “The Company Man”, who uses his talent to spy on McNaughton workers.  Apparently his motivation is to fix a mistake he made earlier where he blackmailed some executive who was so scared and stressed about the dirt that could be used against him he committed suicide.  So Cyril is trying to bounce back from that but instead of being Mr. Fixer he just causes more of a mess, dragging Samantha and Garvey along with him.

Garvey’s story is all mixed up.  He’s trying to solve a murder that occurs in the beginning of the book, but that gets ignored when the trolley full of dead union workers shows up.  The first murder victim may or may not have had ties with the union workers, who are then ignored because Garvey ends up shooting some other union worker - who was attempting to rape Samatha (don't even get me started why this even had to be added to the story) - so then it turns into a story of trying to clear his name.  He’s also divorced and I guess that’s supposed to give him some depth but I think being a detective frustrated with his job would have been enough.

Samantha is just dragged along for the ride and she’s basically there to prove herself.  To who?  I don't know.

Character-angst overload now?  And why didn’t Samantha get a dramatic backstory?

I don’t really know what I’m supposed to be caring about in this book.  It jumps around way too much.  And all these details I guess are meant to create a richly detailed world and characters but it just confused me.   I also was not able to get a real feel for the city, what the buildings look like, what the style of clothes were or the cars they drove.

And then there was this:

Andersson frowned into his beer mug.  “Tazz has said nothing about the trolley murders.”
“Really?  Nothing?”
“Nothing,” said Andersson.
“Not even anything about the Red Star?”
“He is not coming out anymore.”
"What?  Coming out of where?"
“Union men died, Andrew,” Andersson said softly.  “A lot of union men.  There is danger, they say.  He is in hiding.”


“Well, internally they say it’s marketing,” said Hayes.
Andersson frowned.  “Marketing?”


Hayes thought quickly.  “These machines…Do they have little crystals?  Are they like lamps, that light up blue?  Some big, some little?”
Lamps?” said Andersson, confused.  “No, they did not say they were lamps.”

See the underlined parts I marked; the repeating of a word in the form of a question.  In just one conversation it happened 8 times!  And it wasn’t just with certain characters.  I happened a lot.  I don’t know if it’s stylistic or what but it kind of drove me nuts because it just stood out way too much.

BUT despite some of my issues I was still enjoying it.  I still found myself curious and wanting to know what was going on, despite the weird leaps in time and logic.  I was still on board until I read this line:

“She was asleep on the bed.  He walked in carefully, moving as softly as he could.  Her thumb was just inches from her mouth, as if she were just a few years out of infancy.”

So instead of describing Garvey looking upon someone he loves, and glad to find her safe, Samantha is described as if she’s a child.  Huh?  I know she is young but so far at this point in the story she's proved capable of taking care of herself.  Maybe someone else would not have been bothered by this line and maybe I’m reading too much into it but it just pushed me over the edge with this book.  Sometimes I’m able to read through the bad.  I mean, look at Legacy.  But Legacy ended at 345 pages of plot holes and not making a whole lot of sense, where The Company Man just kept going and I couldn't take it anymore.

I’d read reviews for this author’s other books that sounded good so I was really looking forward to reading this one.  It is really disappointing to put in so much effort but then end up having to walk away from it.  I don’t like not finishing a book after investing so much time into it.  That’s why there are not many that I’ve done this with.  But I'm going to have to let this one go.

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