Books: Schmoozing the Dalai Lama

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The Job

by Douglas Kennedy, Little Brown pounds 12.99

New York preppie angst is the flavour of the season, with Jay McInerney and Bret Easton Ellis everywhere from the South Bank to the supplements. At first glance Douglas Kennedy's third novel, following on from thriller-Down-Under The Dead Heart and yuppie-in-peril yarn The Big Picture, appears to be cruising through their stomping ground.

The book's narrator is Ned Allen, a hick from Maine trying to keep afloat in the Big Apple as the Regional Sales Manager for CompuWorld, the third largest computer magazine in America. Stuck in offices the size of Portaloo cubicles on Third Avenue and 46th Street, Ned and his colleagues are driven by the pressure to wheel, deal, schmooze and most importantly "close". Ned despairs: "Sometimes I forget that there are hours in the day when I don't have to be chasing a yes." In this environment, change is a euphemism for trouble and nails are bitten to the quick.

All is well for CompuWorld's financially fraught staff until the magazine's parent company is bought out by a German conglomerate, triggering a chain of events that culminate in blackmail and murder. Ned soon realises that just because he's paranoid, it doesn't mean they're not out to get him.

This is the New York of overpriced Martinis and Vanity Fair, a who-you- know culture where characters head out to parties for easy time with Tina Brown and "that old standby, the fabulous Dalai Lama". It isn't however the cold dystopian city of Kennedy's peers. This is the self-conscious flipside to American Psycho; can you imagine an Easton Ellis character expressing social guilt over someone reduced to working in a toilet?

All the cultural references of corporate America are here; the GQs, Rolexes and Ralph Laurens, mixed in with some shameless namedropping. Yet no one really believes the spiel; the tongue is situated firmly in the cheek (Ned's boss is the marvelously named Chuck Zanussi). The sharpest moments occur when New Age compassion collides headlong with Nineties technology. For instance, when Ned, to save himself distress, identifies a body by video link, he keeps expecting the screen to cut to a commercial break.

Writing in a punchy shoot-from-the-hip patter, which sends the story barreling along at a considerable pace, Kennedy proves himself a master of the sidewinding plot. However, cynics could claim he has his sights set on the potential movie rights. You can almost hear Ned pitching the story as Bright Lights, Big City meets High Fidelity with John Cusack in the lead.

This is a tale of two themes, a comic fable masquerading as a contemporary thriller. Unfortunately, as with any perfect equation, one side cancels the other out. In this case the second half, which plays dangerously close to the territory John Grisham covered in The Firm, detracts from the fresh, sarcastic spin on New York life that makes the opening section so enjoyable. Kennedy doesn't quite close the deal but there is some great schmoozing along the way.