English journalist Lowe turns a politically correct exploration of slavery on West African cocoa plantations into an excruciatingly shallow relationships saga in New York City.
Journalist and reporter Samantha Blackwood has just come from the Côte d’Ivoire with filmmaker and lover Paul on a mission to expose worker exploitation at cocoa factories. Her task in New York, where she lives and works freelance, is to get the marketing director of a family-owned chocolate company at Rockefeller Center, T&B, to agree to an on-camera interview—although Matt Dyson has no idea that Samantha is working in cahoots with a pesky political action group that’s publicly denouncing T&B’s shameful factory practices. Incredibly, top executive Dyson, a young workaholic with no time for dating, knows nothing of his own company’s doings—exposing some of the story’s faulty interior machinery. Second-novelist Lowe (Tunnel Vision, 2001) seems to care deeply about injustice between rich and poor, strong and weak—as we see in his depiction of Sam’s previous abusive relationship—yet he lacks the adequate stylistic equipment to elevate character above the sketchy level of, say, an article in a women’s magazine. Moreover, the tale is heavily, obviously plotted: Naturally, the antagonistic Sam, the journalist, and smug marketer Matt have to find a rapprochement—which occurs handily when the two are accidentally locked up for the weekend at T&B’s factory in Baltimore. Too good to be true—they fall into vats of chocolate and build a bonfire with the help of purloined cognac supplies. Lowe knows a lot about chocolate, but little about New York City—or Boston or Baltimore, for that matter—as shown through vague and imprecise description. Yet what does emerge is an honest journalist’s intent to expose the despicable practices of American marketing, and on that level Lowe’s effort can be indeed useful.
A novel with the best intentions doesn’t automatically work as fiction.