This book is a sequel to "The Management Secrets of T. John Dick," which was published a few years ago. Like the first book, “The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick” is written in the voice of a bumbling, self-important marketing executive at SuperPumps, a manufacturing company in North Carolina. The company makes pumps of some kind, but this is not really important, least of all to TJ, who doesn’t like to let too much knowledge of what his company actually makes interfere with his ability to focus on the big picture.
Also like the first book, much of the humor comes from the contrast between TJ’s view of himself and the truth apparent to his colleagues and to the reader. In this, he might be compared to Charles Pooter in George Grossmith’s "Diary of a Nobody." TJ sees himself as a man of vision, able to "think outside the box" and "see the big picture." None of the sticky situations in which his actions land the company are ever his fault, and if his greatness fails to shine, that is surely due to the incompetence of those who surround him. He also sees himself as the natural successor to Rich, the company President, who, he is convinced, sees him not just as an employee, but as a personal friend and the one man in the company he can rely on.
The story starts at a trade show in Las Vegas, where someone plays a prank on TJ as he takes a nap at his company’s booth after a long night involving powerful cocktails and strange women with even stranger predictions for his future – the first of several references to Macbeth. I don’t want to spoil the fun, so suffice it to say that the prank turns out to work in TJ’s favor and also to benefit the company to the tune of a large order from a Japanese customer. On the back of this, TJ is propelled to the position of acting president of SuperPumps, while Rich is in a coma, thanks to an accident for which TJ is, of course, in no way to blame.
TJ’s efforts to display his leadership qualities run up against colleagues who refuse to take him seriously. This is especially true of Ronnie, VP of Finance, nicknamed the Ostrich, who takes particular pleasure in entangling him in his own complicated procedures. This leads to some very funny scenes, as he tries to maintain order in chaotic meetings and stamp his authority on his new subordinates. He pours money into a ridiculous promotional campaign for a revolutionary single-nozzle pump, which turns out to have two nozzles. On being informed by the Ostrich that he himself has gained an unwelcome nickname, he responds by drawing up an official company nickname policy. Meanwhile his home life is complicated by his wife’s refusal to go along with his marriage mission statement and the unexpected discovery of an exotic dancer in his hot tub. Back at the plant, TJ stumbles upon a piece of skullduggery which threatens the future of the company. He is rapidly discovering that being the boss is not quite what he expected.
The focus of the story may be the humor derived from TJ’s character, but the plot includes several twists and turns, with the pace really picking up in the last third of the book. In the end, TJ finds he has to rely on the very people he has dismissed as obstacles to his greatness in order to save the day. It briefly seems that he has learned a lesson from this, but the book’s closing conversation with the Ostrich, to whom he owes more than anyone, suggests otherwise. This actually comes as a relief to the Ostrich, who is fond of TJ the way he is, a fondness shared by the other characters, Grace, his outrageously unfaithful but affectionate wife and Greg, the male burlesque dancer who follows Grace from Las Vegas and is welcomed into the house by TJ, who is convinced he is gay.
As an IT manager, I frequently run up against people who display at least some of the characteristics of T. John Dick. They are infuriating, of course, but, since shooting them would be against company policy, I find it a lot better for my blood pressure to follow the example of the Ostrich and focus on their funny side. "The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick" will draw laughter and groans of recognition in equal measure, but the strange thing is that, like the Ostrich, you will end up sympathizing with the main character. At the end of the book, the Ostrich, amused by the apparent parallels between TJ and Macbeth, brings up the "fatal flaw" of Shakespearian tragic heroes and asks TJ what he thinks his flaw might be. TJ’s response is typical:
I thought for a long moment, but it was no good. "I can’t think of one," I replied at last.
T. John Dick is no tragic hero. He is however, a great comic creation. I recommend this book for anyone with experience of working in a corporate environment or who enjoys workplace humor.
"The Rise and Fall of T. John Dick" is available as a paperback from Amazon or direct from the publisher Mainland Press. It is also available for Kindle and Nook.