Saturday, September 10, 2005

In Good Company: A Review of Company Man.
By Mary K. Williams

(cross posted to

Company Man by Joseph Finder: New York, St. Martin’s Press. 2005. 215 pgs.

You know a book is good when it gets inside you. When you think about what is going on with the characters when the pages are closed and wonder how any one of them might handle a certain situation. In Company Man, Joseph Finder has created such characters. He's also created a tensely paced believable thriller.

Nick Conover is a recently widowed CEO of a large office-furniture plant in Fenwick, MI. When we meet Nick, he’s trying to deal with his two children, 16 year old Lucas and 10-year-old Julia in the aftermath of losing their mother, Laura. Aside from family sorrows, Nick has to continually please the corporate owners.

Because of pressure from the home office in Boston, he’s had to lay off about five thousand employees resulting in nearly the whole town hating him. On top of everything else, a shadowy stalker has been breaking into his family’s home to vandalize it with frightening graffiti. Before long, his worlds collide and in uncontrollable circumstances, there’s also now a dead body and a cover-up to contend with. Business deals begin to collapse, and Nick’s life becomes even more strained as homicide detectives begin to investigate the case.

Joseph Finder isn’t a stranger to the corporate thriller. His 2004 novel, Paranoia, was on the New York Times Bestseller list, as well as High Crimes, the 1998 legal thriller turned major film (Morgan Freeman, Ashley Judd, Jim Caviezel).

A former Yale Russian Studies student and Harvard instructor, Finder started his literary career with a book called, Red Carpet: The Connection Between the Kremlin and America’s Most Powerful Businessmen. This book, an account of Dr. Armand Hammer’s connections to Soviet intelligence, nearly led to a libel suit by Dr. Hammer against Finder. Soon enough though, the facts against Hammer were verified when the walls of the Soviet Union began to crumble and archived intelligence surfaced.

Because perhaps of Finder’s connections in the intelligence world (he’s a member of the AFIO, the Association of Former Intelligence Officers), he seems to have excellent instincts and timing regarding his espionage subject matter. In his first fiction novel, The Moscow Club, he told the story of a KGB driven coup against leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. The book was published in 1991, six months before the real event.

In 1994, Finder published his second novel, Extraordinary Powers, about the discovery of a Soviet mole positioned in the upper echelon of the CIA. Just days after this book came out; Aldrich Ames was named as one of the most notorious CIA moles in history.

When the subject matter is the corporate world, Joseph Finder still on top of his game. Company Man gives us all the shades of big business life, from cube farms to outsourcing to a Warren Buffet / Berkshire Hathaway type ownership. Finder does thorough research for his stories, and it shows in Nick Conover’s on target interactions with his teenage son, as well as his thoughts about his dead wife, Laura. Finder shows us the human failings in Nick, guiltily finding fault with Laura’s decorating choices --

“The first graffiti had appeared on the heavy, ornate ash-wood front door, which Laura had deliberated over for weeks with the architect, a door that had cost a ridiculous three thousand dollars, a fucking door, for God’s sake”

-- instead of simply elevating her to sainthood, just because she’s deceased.

The author still keeps things real, as homicide detective Audrey Rhimes enters the scene. Company Man’s book jacket and other PR blurbs mention this character as having “her own, very personal, reason for pursuing Nick Conover.” However, as the story unfolds, I didn’t view Rhimes this way. It’s no secret that her husband has been laid off from Stratton, and his subsequent drinking and general surliness provide tension and a nice secondary plot line. But Finder’s depiction of this woman is not of someone who is itching to get the guy who soured her marriage, instead she almost reminds you of Tommy Lee Jones’s “Sam Gerard”, the U.S. Marshall in The Fugitive. Gerard just wanted to do his job, and get the bad guy. The Rhimes character is just as single minded as Gerard. And in both cases, as the investigation process widens to include other possibilities, Finder makes Audrey Rhimes is smart enough to follow every lead.

The bottom line on Company Man? A very enjoyable read.

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