Melissa Levine, Independent Professional Book Reviewers
A young widow and her seventeen-year-old son get caught up in the shady dealings of her late husband’s company in Business as Usual, the debut novel of author Carlton Stephenson. Set in Guyana, the book tells the story of a wealthy family that loses it’s patriarch to assassination, leaving his wife and son to battle against drug cartels, bandits, and gun runners for control of the family business.
The board of directors of Shannon Enterprises immediately pulls rank after the death of Conrad Shannon. His unfaithful, ruthless wife, Joan, challenges the directors. She believes she should gain control of the company due to her status as Conrad’s widow. There is also the issue of a large debt that Joan is now obliged to pay on her dead husband’s behalf. Initially her son, David, has little interest in the company, but that changes as he begins to doubt the cause of his father’s death and a will is produced naming David as the heir to Shannon Enterprises.
From the first page, Business as Usual is loaded with action and violence. Stephenson takes the reader inside the lives of a family in chaos. As it turns out, both Joan and David were completely oblivious to the true dealings that made the family business prosperous. Neither are equipped to truly manage the company, but they work together (and often against one another) to gain control of the company and to halt a merger with a Trinidad-based company.
The author presents his characters as whole persons: all of their good and all of their bad attributes are displayed. There are no angels in this story, but the main characters are very human and relatable. The story itself is dynamic because it discusses the illegal drug and gun trade that are current problems in Guyana. Racial tensions among the blacks, East Indians, and Amerindians are also a focal point of the book, making this story quite enlightening in addition to being entertaining.
The measures that both Joan and David go through to retain control of their business impact their professional and personal lives. The relationship between mother and son is increasingly volatile creating the perfect love-hate relationship at the center of this multi-layered tale of money, sex, and power. Dialogue is often presented in creole, which will require some effort for many readers to decipher; but this adds to the authenticity of the book. Although the story has numerous twists and turns, the author does manage to tie all of the ends together as the book closes.
Business as Usual is an impressive first effort. The book offers adventure, mystery, and family drama, with a mix of contemporary social problems that will keep readers engaged and looking forward to the release of the sequel.