In this debut thriller, a former chemical-company employee is rehired to review a plant’s documents as they face impending lawsuits.
Bernie DeVittoria, four years after leaving her job at Renard Chemicals, leaves her Delaware home to examine files at the company’s Georgia plant. Her purpose there is hush-hush, but that doesn’t stop Renard’s employees from giving her the cold shoulder—or trying to spy on her. Soon, Bernie and her team of assistants face threats, and it becomes clear that some people at the plant are hiding something; at the same time, Bernie worries about her estranged, alcoholic husband, Carl. DeNapoli’s novel has three distinct acts: Bernie’s rehiring and her history with Carl; her time at the plant itself; and her visits with plaintiffs in a lawsuit to discuss possible settlements. The second act is the best and, fortunately, the longest; Bernie deals with an obnoxiously loud and abrasive company lawyer named Jo, recording devices at her office and hotel room and, later, increasingly aggressive managers, culminating in a physical assault. Bernie is a devout Christian who recites biblical passages and inspirational messages, often to herself; curiously, however, she doesn’t come across as overly moralistic, but the narrative itself sometimes does. At one point, for example, an orgy is described by one Renard employee as “the work of Satan.” The novel occasionally fluctuates between past and present tenses, and Bernie’s third-person perspective frequently shifts to first person and back again. Some well-drawn characters stand out, however, including security man Warren, as well as the Renard brothers, who seem to genuinely care about their company’s plant-growth products. Bernie, though, is the true highlight here—a kind, compassionate woman who’s in top form when she’s authoritative, as her young assistants quickly learn.
An uneven legal thriller with an appealing protagonist.