Listening to Debussy's piano music.
Means to an End by John Rowan Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
John Rowan Wilson is one of those accidental discoveries, which has led me on a quest to find all of his books. This is not easy because the author is long gone and his books are all out of print.
In Means to an End we see the dark underbelly of the business world. Chris Marshall has inherited a job with his father's corporation. He doesn't like the job, but after a failed attempt to make it as an artist in Paris, he has largely been drifting through life.
He knows and the rest of the company knows that he is there as fluff. He contributes nothing to the business, yet out of the blue, the boss wants to send him to Europe to deal with their wings in London and Paris.
This is strange, because he does so little here, what is he going to do there? Nothing, as he soon finds out. Everyone is smiley and polite, but their attitude is basically, don't you worry your pretty little head about anything, we've got everything covered.
And then an employee in Paris kills himself. Why? No one cares. Except Marshall. What is going on? He finds the widow and talks to her. It turns out that her husband was getting underpaid for his work, and finally lost his head and shot at the French head of the Paris branch of the company.
Marshall finally sees something he can deal with. But he makes some discoveries that shatter his belief in the goodness of human nature. Apparently the company has not been dealing honestly and has even been involved in illegal activities on an international level. Marshall is about to be both boat rocker and whistle blower.
But he is absolutely alone. His own father started the business, taking advantage of post WWII Europe's financial straits. Everybody else in the company, including his brother, are more concerned about keeping peace, their job and comfortable livings.
If this were a movie, everyone would behave like superheroes and have above board morals. When reading the book, I could not help but wonder, just how brave would I be in such a situation. I can think of times in my own work where I chickened out when I knew something was not right. I also had to quit because it was killing my morale. It's not so easy to be a superhero without a script guaranteeing a soft landing.
Wilson is British, but his protagonist is American. I was impressed with how deftly he nailed the voices of his American characters. He didn't make parodies out of them, as too many British authors are tempted to do. They were human. Flawed, heavily flawed, but still human beings. So were his British characters. Those are easy to parody too...stiff upper lip, hip, hip...I walk and act like this because I have a pole up my rear...the British and Americans were people you could despise but also feel for. They were real.
So were the French characters as far as that goes. Existential, fatalistic...but that's how 20th century French writers describe their own people.
Finally, Wilson showed great knowledge and insight into the international business world, even though he was educated and trained as a Doctor.
This is my second book by him and I hope to read more.
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