Someone needs to call HR on Bentley.
Look, I’ve been a casual fan of the author since I first read his work, but never a defender. That means that I know what I’m getting into with his fiction. Fast-paced, bluntly-written tales of insidious takeover that fits more or less the same mould: an evil new principal abusing her power, a soul-sucking corporate superstore sucking the life out of a small town, a creepy new preacher conjuring up a flock of fanatics… and here, an evil..consultant?
Sometimes, Little’s ideas fit his formulaic storytelling quite well. The Haunted is probably one of my favorite books of all time – because I think classic ghost stories succeed because of the tried and true format that just happens to mesh well with Little’s own. On the other end of the spectrum, I found The Influence to be quite a bit outside his usual methods, and that was extremely entertaining.
The thing to do with Bentley Little books, because they tend to all use the same format, is to try to push everything you know about the author and his other books out of your head and attempt to approach it with a blank slate, no expectations. It’s hard to do, of course, and maybe not the best sign of an author that it needs to be done at all, but I think it’s fair to at least try to be objective about books and give them their fair shot.
Even doing this, though, The Consultant misses the mark at several crucial points. Dubbed a biting “workplace satire,” the commentary of corporate soul-sucking and stripping away of individuality and personal rights and freedoms is lost among all the horniness. Like I said, I know what I’m getting into with Little, and his frequent reliance on creepy sexual perversion to induce horror was to be expected (so much for that blank slate, I guess). Perhaps it just stood out more jarringly because of the drab workplace office setting, but it seemed to be a crutch here. It’s not the worst thing in the world – triggering for some, perhaps, but for me just effective in its goal of making me uncomfortable and hating the villains – but far too frequent.
Another thing that stood out a lot in this book is Little’s tendency to say too much. I’ve praised his blunt writing style before – sometimes it works – but lately I’ve begun noticing a trend where he feels the need to tell us what is best left obvious but unsaid. Yes, we the reader *know* the consultant is weird, and inappropriate. There are frequently sentences along the lines of “what just happened was weird, and it shouldn’t be allowed in any workplace environment, but the fact that it was, was very scary.” I don’t always need subtlety, and Little is rarely if ever subtle. But some things don’t need to be said if they’re obvious.
As an admitted fan of longer books and one not so keen on novellas or short stories, I never say this…but I’m going to say it. This would make a better novella or short story. When I began reading, everything was happening so quickly that many times I could only think “What the hell is going to happen to fill nearly 500 pages?” Unless Little decided to break the mould and hit us with a powerhouse of a twist, it was going to be just more of the same series of bizarre scenes until the final showdown. Knowing Little, which one do you guess it was? If I weren’t so tired, I’d come up with some clever wordplay about staff cuts and editing.
Look, I know I’m ragging on this hard, and I feel bad, because I genuinely like a lot of Little’s work. His books are very fun, and like I said I fell in love with The Haunted. This is just one of those that didn’t work on me, and unfortunately there’s been quite a few of those lately where he’s concerned. It’s one thing to *know* that Little sticks to a formula, but it’s another thing to be reading and suddenly realize, “Oh man, we’ve been here before. Different names, different place, but same old story.” And that – the knowledge that Little had nothing much to say here but simply went through the motions of putting a book out – is a real bummer, because I know he has the capacity for more. 5.5/10