Review: The Company Man

by Robert Jackson Bennett

Orbit, out now

It’s 1919 in a world which was changed at the end of the 19th Century by the great McNaughton Corporation’s inventions. Investigator Cyril Hayes is trying to uncover the source of union unrest, and solve a baffling multiple murder…

Like Bennett’s debut novel, Mr Shivers, The Company Man starts off as one type of novel and changes direction as it goes along, so that by the final page, the last description you’d give of the whole book matches the impression you have in its early chapters.

The steampunk/alternate history elements give it a very Dark City feel, and like the Alex Proyas movie, you have the feeling right from the start that there’s far more going on than is being revealed either to the protagonist, or the reader. Bennett has a gift for making you care about his characters, even in the most unpleasant situations, and while there are certain tropes of the private investigator world that he uses, they are upended regularly.

Cyril Hayes’ journey provides some surprises for the reader, although the revelations regarding the union aren’t as shocking as they’re made out to be; the secrets behind the McNaughton Corporation threaten to descend into cliché, but Bennett wisely concentrates on their effect on his leads.

Verdict: Written in a style that quickly draws you in, The Company Man is a strong second book from Bennett, although hopefully his next won’t rely on the same stylistic trick of changing course midway through. As with its use in the films of M. Night Shyamalan, it’s a conceit that can pall very quickly.  7/10

Paul Simpson

 

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