Another novel about big, bad corporate America.
In this tepid debut, Carlson, a New York shipping lawyer, draws on his insider’s experience with corporate law firms to reveal the depths to which they will sometimes sink in order to win. The story is narrated by Stephen Harker, a lawyer at WorldScore, a massive New York City firm whose motto seems to be "let’s make as much money as we can, screw the little guys, and laugh while doing it." A lefty among right-wingers, Harker is paid well and gets lots of free booze and food, but now he’s “morphing into a new species.” So much destruction: “My ability to lawyer had disintegrated into zeros and ones.” The little guy here is former Special Forces pilot Maj. Mike “Bud” Thomas, who is seeking workers’ compensation for wartime employment in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he worked for FreedomQuest, a private military contractor. His injuries, including psychological ones, are numerous. Harker is told by his boss, Robert Fleeger, the “big kahuna,” that the company is counting on him to win this one. Harker’s the “tip of the spear here so don’t let us down.” To win, he will have to “impeach the man’s credibility and tarnish his brass.” Meanwhile, Harker and Kath O’Shaughnessy, Fleeger’s ex-wife, a “Givenchy model in a Penthouse ad,” have a thing going on. Will Harker change his stripes and let Thomas win? Or will he toe the line for his greedy employer? The book is written in an excessively conversational, slangy style. Lots of incomplete sentences. Business terms. Legalese. Appropriate swaths of swear words at the right time. The characters are thin and stereotypical and the slight plot loses its way. But kudos to first-time novelist Carlson for taking on a complicated subject that is timely and significant.