It’s Book Review Wednesday, the best day of the week. Today’s book is a humorous mystery novel, and the “detective” is none other than a cynical Human Resources rep. Say what?

 

Smile Now, Cry Later

176 million work in Corporate America.
86% are miserable.
Chuck Restic is one of them.

SNCL

Chuck is wasting away in a soul-crushing job as an HR exec for a large corporation. But when he ventures out of his Los Angeles skyscraper to investigate the disappearance of a colleague, he starts to feel alive again. Chuck’s not your typical Private Investigator (he prefers a passive-aggressive approach over the old-fashioned fisticuffs kind) but he is amusingly effective at solving crimes. And at last he is able to apply that HR experience — the same one that gives him so much consternation — to a finer purpose.

This first book in the humorous mystery series takes Chuck from the shady underworld of Armenian mobsters to the billion-dollar land developments that serve as the lifeblood of Los Angeles. Murder lurks at every turn and this amateur sleuth needs to find the killer before his name is added to the list.

My Review: 4 Stars

From the moment I opened this book, I found myself laughing at the main character’s cynical take on the corporate life. For anyone who has spent time in a corporate setting, it’s absolutely true. One of my new favorite detectives–sort of a modern day, passive-aggressive version of Glen Cook’s Garrett P.I.

The book’s main plot was all about real estate, which I found a bit hard to understand, but the author had a VERY solid grip on the ins and outs of the industry. He also seemed to understand life as an HR rep very clearly, and a decent understanding of police procedure.

The writing had a few flaws. It was written in primarily passive voice, and roughly 30% of punctuation was missing (a lot of commas needed!). The book’s pace was VERY slow. Not much mystery and thrill for a mystery/thriller.

However, it didn’t detract from the enjoyment of the main character. It was a solid book, and one I’d recommend to anyone looking for something interesting and out-of-the-norm to read.

 

Here’s a Taste:

My first and only interaction with Ed Vadaresian was over an excessive cologne complaint. An administrative assistant and mother-to-be on the thirty-second floor was unable to complete her daily functions because of debilitating headaches she suffered throughout the day. She attributed the headaches to a heightened sense of smell brought about by her pregnancy and to the overwhelming scent of Mr. Vadaresian’s cologne. It appeared that his simply walking past her cubicle sent her reeling with sharp pains behind her left eye for which the only respite was a long nap in the darkened back seat of her Subaru.

The complaint was quickly escalated to my desk after an initial review warranted involvement from senior management. The administrative assistant had hit the trifecta for trial lawyers: lesbian, African American, and over forty. Throw in pregnant and she attained a legendarysuperfecta status which most HR executives never witness in their entire careers.

The administrative assistant was well-known to our department. In her brief four-year career she had lodged a total of seven complaints, including the one against Ed. They ranged from the ludicrous (serving Aunt Jemima syrup at the annual pancake social was a direct assault on her as a woman of color) to the extremely ludicrous (a request to eradicate the phrase “low hanging fruit” from our lexicon as it was offensive to women of a certain age). She also had an issue with tardiness, failed to meet many of her deadlines, and overall was a consistently inconsistent performer. All of this, however, was irrelevant when it came to the complaint lodged against Ed.

Human Resources exists not as a “resource” for associates (the term “employee” was eradicated decades ago from corporate offices) but as a way for corporations to limit exposure to lawsuits. The majority of programs, counseling, and conflict resolution services all worked towards a single goal: avoid getting sued. A decade ago I unveiled a new concept at the company called the “Mother’s Room” (it was renamed “Resting Room” after a complaint by a single-parent dad). This was a dedicated room on every floor where a mom could go to relax, or if she was breast-feeding, to pump milk in private. The rooms contained a small cot, a mini-fridge for the milk, and a phone in case of emergency. Publicly, we wanted to encourage a healthy work/life balance and smooth the difficult transition from having a child to returning to work. Privately, we witnessed an alarming spike in maternity-fueled legal actions and figured the costs of maintaining a seven-by-five room with an Army cot paled in comparison to the cost of attorney fees and cash settlements on unhealthy workplace lawsuits. There is no justice in Corporate America, only the lens of the liability framework.

So when the excessive cologne complaint was lodged by a low-performing associate with a history of mental instability against an associate who had a long, respected track record of adding value to the company, we had no choice but to bring Ed Vadaresian in for some feedback.

 

About the Author

Paul MacDonald is a 20-year veteran of Corporate America. He has endured countless PowerPoint decks, offsite retreats and visioning sessions, synergies and synergistically-minded cross-functional teams, to bring you the Chuck Restic mystery series. He lives with his wife, son and blind dog in Los Angeles.

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