St. Martin’s Press,
Reviewed by Joy
Nick Conover is a protector by nature, but one would think he was Public Enemy Number One, seeing how badly the people for whom he is responsible misunderstand his efforts to protect them. Nick is CEO of Stratton Corporation, an old, respected manufacturer of office furniture recently bought by an eastern consortium. Fairfield Equity Partners doesn’t care that Stratton Corp. provides a large percentage of the jobs in the town of Fenwick. They just see it would be cheaper to have the manufacturing done in China. Nick has had to lay off half of Stratton’s employees to keep the plant from being shut down.
Someone, probably a laid off employee, hates Nick enough to vandalize his house repeatedly. The threats are escalating. Far from helping, the police seem to enjoy seeing “Nick the Slasher” getting his. It looks like what happened to his house could happen to his motherless children. Nick is not going to allow that, no matter how his children feel about him.
That’s another issue. His daughter Julia is a sweetie, but his teenaged son Lucas seems to be headed for big time trouble as fast as he can get there. To Lucas, everything wrong in his life is Nick’s fault. Drugs could be the least of his troubles.
After only a few chapters, Nick looks like a man surrounded by avalanches ready to come down at the smallest movement. His Fairfield Equity superior and his CFO are acting furtive together. His Security Director and boyhood friend Eddie is showing a side of his personality Nick has never seen before. Lucas is about to get himself expelled from school. Townspeople walk away from Nick when he speaks to them – which is nothing new for “Nick the Slasher,” but now Nick has bought a packet of trouble that could destroy everything he is so desperate to hang onto.
COMPANY MAN is a character driven story, no doubt about it. In addition to Nick and his family – true to life and recognizable to any reader – we have Cassie Stadler, with more than her fair share of personal appeal, and her unbalanced father, who used to work for Stratton. Cassie is a tour de force of character creation, a one-woman kaleidoscope. Detective Audrey Rhimes and her husband Leon would be natural enemies to Nick except that Audrey clings to Christian principles. Eddie Rinaldi was rescued by Nick from a questionable past. Frumpy Stratton CFO Scott McNally juggles figures like a practiced fraud. There are the fatherly, absentee boss Willard Osgood; the boss from hell, Todd Muldaur; Detective Audrey’s mentor boss Jack Noyce. There are also Audrey’s nemesis Roy Bugbee and other interestingly fleshed out secondary characters. Everyone does exactly what he or she would do in the circumstances, if COMPANY MAN were really happening.
I had one trouble reading COMPANY MAN. The level of suspense goes so high, so soon, with so many dire possibilities and no visible ways out that, if I hadn’t been reviewing it, I would have had to peek ahead to the end to make it possible for me to finish the book. Five hundred pages is a long time to survive that kind of suspense. It didn’t ease back down to a bearable level (by my admittedly sensitive barometer) until almost halfway through. By then the characters were finally developed enough to make me as interested in their fate as I already was in Nick’s.
Author Joseph Finder’s PARANOIA and HIGH CRIMES were New York Times bestsellers. Finder makes a point of thorough research for all his novels: for COMPANY MAN he did innumerable interviews in corporations in the office furniture industry to get the psychology, the climate, and the jargon right. Finder’s track record for thriller novels that precede the same events in the real world is so good – all right, call it spooky – that the events of COMPANY MAN might be happening out there somewhere right now.
May 2005 Review
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