I don't think that I've mentioned it before, but my job is CIO (Chief Information Officer) or super-IT manager at one of Israel's leading office furniture manufacturers. In this capacity I was approached by a lady in the summer asking me to translate some technical terms about furniture from English into Hebrew. I didn't think very much about this, but during an exchange of emails (which I remember because at the time I was in San Francisco, accessing my work email), the lady asked whether she could thank me in print for my co-operation. I reluctantly agreed, out of modesty.
As we were in America on holiday, I completely forgot about this until a few weeks ago, when a lady from another furniture company in Israel whom I know phoned me and said that she had seen my name in the translator's credits of a newly published book in Hebrew. I asked her to send me a fax of the page and discovered that I had participated - albeit tangentially - in the translation of Joseph Finder's "Company Man" into Hebrew.
Last night my family were celebrating my wife's birthday in one of Tel Aviv's shopping mall. Wandering into a book shop, I decided to see the credit for myself; the book was found, but my son found it hard to believe that I had helped. As I was feeling somewhat in debt to the saleshand who had found the book, I asked for the original English copy which was quickly located, after which I bought it.
Today I read the book. It has several things which attract me: it's about a company man (actually CEO) of a furniture manufacturing company in America, which creates parallels with my own job (even though the company described is about 50 times bigger than mine). It's also a murder story, and these days most of the fiction which I buy is murder stories (check out Ian Rankin's John Rebus or Peter Robinson's Alan Banks). It's also a long book - just over 550 pages in my edition - which means that it kept me occupied for several hours.
- Warning: spoilers ahead -
It's unusual from most of the crime books that I read in that more space was devoted to the crime's perpetrator than was to the crime's solver (ie the police detective), and even then a fair amount of the pages devoted to the detective was about her home life and not the detective process. Many times, especially during the middle of the book, I found myself wondering what the book was really about, and what the author was trying to tell me.
Of course, everything came together in the end, both the criminal and the business themes, along with surprise resolutions to everything. But that's fiction.
Whilst I think that at least one hundred pages could easily be trimmed without losing anything (do we really need to read about the CEO's son's problems at school or the detective's domestic problems?), the seemingly extraneous material allows the reader to see the characters as much more life-like and three dimensional, as opposed to characters that the book's structure requires. Did it make me care anymore about the characters?
Well, murder stories are normally written from the point of view of the detective, so it's refreshing when the author throws in material from a different angle. Rankin doesn't do this very much (although his last few books feature several cases being run simultaneously by at least two detectives, so there is always variety) whereas Robinson tends to be more varied.
But "Company Man" has two protagonists: Nick Conover, the CEO, who is engaged with problems at work as well as a murder, and Detective Audrey Rhimes, who is trying to do her job whilst being distracted by unhelpful colleagues and a wayward husband. Both are trying to outwit each other, and both are being back-stabbed at work. The extra pages try to show that both these characters are very professional whilst at work, and try (not too successfully) to show that they are human beings outside of work.
I think that the book would have been a tauter thriller had it lost this extraneous material, but it's still worth reading, even if I didn't learn much about the furniture business.....