The Company Man by Robert Jackson Bennett (book review)

March 25, 2016 | By | Reply More

‘The Company Man’ is the second novel by author Robert Jackson Bennett and, like the first one, a standalone story. The year is 1919, but the world is not quite ours. In this alternate version of Earth, the titular company McNaughton Corporation is the pinnacle of American industry. The world is dominated by this company, as powerful as any nation, because its technology spans from transportation via airships to guns. Its extraordinary inventions literally transformed the world: As it happens, McNaughton forced a ceasefire five years ago by threatening to withhold their products from anyone escalating the dangerous situation on the European continent in 1914, when the world was on the brink of war. The company’s headquarters are in Evesden, once a tiny fishing settlement at the Puget Sound where William McNaughton found the eccentric inventor Lawrence Kulahee and his marvelous machines. McNaughton later remodeled Evesden into his city of the future.


An unidentifiable murder victim causes police detective Donald Garvey to call upon his friend Cyril Hayes for help. Hayes is a troubleshooter for the company and a dead company employee would be his responsibility. The company are concerned for Hayes because his rash actions caused the suicide of an employee not long ago. This concern and the situation being delicate due to possible union involvement in this and some other murders cause his superior to provide him with an assistant, Samantha Fairbanks, and confine him to conduct interviews within the company. Hayes is ideally suited for the job as he has the ability to discern more and more of the thoughts of an individual the longer he is close to her or him. Unfortunately, his ability comes with a drug addiction and an alcohol problem.

When a trolley car pulls into the station carrying eleven dead bodies, all of them live union men just four minutes earlier when they boarded at the previous station, Hayes begins to investigate on his own. Who is able to kill eleven grown men in just under four minutes without the trolley car stopping between stations and without leaving any trace? What is the ghostly figure people see around Evesden? Why are union men targeted? What does the union really want? What secret does the McNaughton Corporation try to bury? Who or what whispers in Hayes’s mind? Do all our protagonists survive the investigation?

Robert Jackson Bennett’s ‘The Company Man’ is a very atmospheric novel starting out as a dieselpunk alternate universe crime noir novel with supernatural elements and turning into something else towards the end without missing a step in between, picking up some horror elements on the way. All the main characters, including the city, which is a character in its own right, are portrayed quite vividly. They are interesting and sometimes unpredictable and the development of their relationships is solid. Even the secondary characters are more than just stereotypes. The idiom Bennett employs throughout the book draws the reader into his world which is painted in great detail. The pacing is a bit uneven and some parts seem lengthy here and there but, all in all, it is a really entertaining and well-plotted read. I look forward to reading more from Robert Jackson Bennett. A definite must for readers who like alternate worlds or a good mystery and fans of Raymond Chandler, China Miéville or Philip K. Dick. Do not read if you like your genres well-defined and with clear boundaries which will not be crossed.

Sven Scheurer

March 2016

(pub: Orbit, 2011. 454 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-792-1)

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Category: Books, Scifi

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