A young engineer finds himself in hot water when the bigwigs at his workplace start cutting corners, ignoring his advice and playing dirty.
Daniel Robles is an upstanding, ethically sound engineer who quickly learns that his employers are more interested in the bottom line than the wellbeing of their employees. They often ignore his creditable advice when it comes to safety matters, especially at financially fragile Schirmerling Tire and Rubber Company. Wood capably draws some gratifyingly rude characters: O’Brien, head of security and overseer of a meth lab secreted away at the tire plant, and Hodges, who would rather save a dime than worry about a worker being steamed like a lobster by the company’s dangerously flimsy boilers. Wood also colorfully depicts Robles’ girlfriend, Carol, a deeply manipulative woman not afraid to pull the Lysistrata trick on him in order to get her way. But when Wood uses italicized letters to let readers into his characters’ heads, things get stilted. It’s difficult to imagine Robles thinking to himself, “He says there’s a position at Schirmerling Tire & Rubber in Akron, Ohio, a nice, respectable company. It’s time for a change, a time for something better. And Akron is near Kent, where Hector, my brother lives. Yes, it’s time.” The enjoyable complexity of this thriller—at one point, Robles is being framed in more ways than one—is handled with aplomb by Wood, though certain side plots fail to get the attention they deserve, such as O’Brien’s gambling issues and Hector’s delamination after the Kent State shootings (the story takes place in 1970). Nor does Wood conjure the ambiance of the time, which surely could have cast the evildoers in an even harsher light. The story’s precarious balance keeps readers involved, particularly with Robles’ gathering tribulations, the company’s vileness and a bracing denouement in the boiler room. The sex scenes, on the other hand, are flaccid: “Carol liked his long hair. And he liked to please her, for when he did, she pleased him in ways he really liked.” Like, please.
Wood’s tale of greed and violence versus decency is best when revved up and rolling, not just spinning the tires.