Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Kennedy's first novel, The Big Picture (1997), was a riveting commercial thriller that was perhaps overhyped. His second, though it shares the first book's galloping pace and strong sense of close-of-century angst among the well-fixed, seems, two-thirds of the way through, to give up the ghost for what reads like an overplotted, underwritten homage to Grisham.
Ned Allen is a brash young ad salesman for a striving computer magazine in Manhattan, and the perils and pleasures of such a life are brilliantly set out in the opening chapters. Then a German conglomerate (in what may be a particularly timely reference among book people) takes over, and disaster strikes. In no time, Ned is without a job and, because of a quarrel he got into with a powerful space buyer and an enraged swing at his creepy German boss, is perhaps unemployable. Meanwhile, wife Lizzie is tiring of his remoteness and tantrums. To the rescue comes an old school chum who works for a high-profile but shady real estate tycoon, and Ned finds himself enmeshed in money laundering and murderwith him as the suspect. The concluding chapters brim with Grishamesque ploys: offshore bank accounts are manipulated, traps are set, time is running out. The trouble is that Ned's world has been so accurately and meticulously set forth early in the book that all this breathless, barely credible skullduggery seems to belong to a different, and poorer, book entirely.
Kennedy can certainly make the pages turn; he must learn to make them turn to more consistently rewarding effect.
Probably most computer industry denizens are salesmen of one kind or another immensely valuable when they close a sale, immensely expensive otherwise. In this second novel by the author of The Big Picture (Hyperion, 1997), Ned Allen sells ads in a computer trade magazine until it is suddenly sold and he finds himself jobless and unemployable through his own impetuous behavior. An old friend offers a job that seems too good to be true and that could be the death of poor Ned. Caught up in money laundering, murder, and the loss of his sensible wife (by far the most sympathetic character), Ned stumbles through a series of confrontations with criminals and with his soul. For a jazzier view of high-tech shenanigans, stick to Po Bronson's novels. For a view of the computer industry, look elsewhere Ned could be any salesman, anywhere, but he's no Willy Loman.
Marked by black-and-white characters and unbelievable plot twists, this is a blender-made book. . .
An up-and-coming ad exec tossed out on his ear finds a new job that's a bargain with the Devil, in a glossy, fast-moving, by-the-numbers thriller from Douglas (The Big Picture, 1997).
"Results mean everything," says Ned Allen. Results have boosted him up the ladder to regional sales manager for CompuWorld's ad pages, and results have won him a nice SoHo apartment, a well-stocked wardrobe, a tennis club membership, and his knockout wife Lizzie, for whom results also mean everything.
So it doesn't take a CompuWorld subscriber to see that when Ned's team stops producingespecially now that the magazine's publisher has been sold to a no-nonsense German media conglomeratethe results will be measured in sweat, Valium, slugs of red wine, and alienation of affection. Kennedy knows we know all this, but his hero's engagingly motormouth narration, coupled with the author's knack for magnifying his audience's pandemic low-level anxieties into full-blown paranoia, makes the first half of this cautionary talein which a guy with everything going for him loses it all, one excruciating step at a timeintoxicatingly readable, as Ned struggles with the unsavory moral compromises he'll have to make to keep his job, finally steels himself to make them, then gets tossed out anyway. But all Ned's cruelly well-drawn jitters, and every detail of his yuppie crucifixion, are only a prelude to his getting sucked into a new job redolent of sulphur and brimstoneand here, with the pulpy criminal plot loosed from every semblance of reality, Ned's ordeal (cold-calling, bootlicking, money-laundering, serious criminal conspiracy) becomes, if not more predictable,less compellingly so, since you know what he's going through, not because his fears are just like yours, but because you've already read this story so many times.
Even so, Kennedy dishes up this familiar fare with enough pizzazz to keep you reading long after you've worked out every single twist two steps ahead of the hapless hero.