Exceptional powers more a burden than a gift, Cyril Hayes—company man to the powerful McNaughton Corporation—lives his corporate agent life in a haze of opium and alcohol. Able to discern the inner workings of people’s minds if he can spend a couple of hours with them, Hayes uses his talents for the benefit of the Corporation, sniffing out moles and frauds, informants and spies, and always in a back room. The unions in the metropolis of Evesden growing ever more powerful, Hayes’ investigative work begins to get uglier and uglier. Dead bodies turning up in the underground and canals, the threat of violence and revolt among the men laboring each day in the factories and mines grows more palpable each day. But one set of murders is stranger than normal. A whole tram full of corpses found with the tinest of red holes in each body, Hayes is asked to get involved as even the powerful McNaughton executives fear the unknown cause. More and more corporate secrets uncovered in Hayes’ investigation, the city of Evesden—and the secrets lying beneath it—will never be the same.
The Company Man is a robust piece of entertainment. Detective noir infused with dieselpunk and sci-fi, Bennett creates a nice blend that opens simple but escalates superbly into an ever-expanding storyline of who or what is behind the happenings. Hayes is an alcohol drinking, opium smoking anti-hero of self-pitying proportions, but given the tale he’s caught up in, is difficult to outright dismiss given the reader’s desire to know more about the plot and setting. The novel highly reminiscent of a Robert Charles Wilson offering, Bennett uses solid prose to patiently yet intriguingly build a scene that has the reader looking for answers. Also like most Wilson stories, The Company Man exists at a distance from reality. The characters are fairly realistic, but plot and sensawunda take steadier and steadier steps toward the forefront. (Is it too much to point out that Wilson and Bennett also use three names?) In short, it is a novel that may not possess much underlying substance, but remains a ripping good read.