Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Behind every successful man is a busy assistant and Tina’s boss is very successful.
But Tina is tired of being overworked and underpaid.
She’s bored of her damp flat and her mounting debts.
Then a blip in the expenses system sends Tina a cheque.
She’s a good person.
But she’s desperate.
This isn’t stealing.
It’s an administrative error.
What would you do if you thought you’d get away with it?
The Assistants is the début novel from Camille Perri, the books editor of Cosmopolitan magazine but she has also worked as a librarian and ghost-writer. Aptly it mentions the author has worked as an assistant and obviously some of her experiences or stories she heard during that time formed the inspiration for this book. Initially I thought this book would be a bit like The Devil Wears Prada but I soon came to realise this was going to be more edgier and even more cut throat.
The tagline states 'no one ever got ahead by playing by the rules' and this really couldn't be more true for every profession although the means by which you get ahead should maybe not as scrupulous as those that Tina our main protagonist employs. Tina has spent six years working as an assistant to Robert one of the most powerful men in America. She is privy to the majority of his secrets and obeys his every command within seconds always fulfilling what seems to be the impossible. But what happens when you are underpaid and overworked with an ever increasing amount of personal debt piling up? Why should you live in a small run-down apartment with rats running around in the walls and a water bubble about to burst from the ceiling? Especially when your boss spends money like there is no tomorrow. What if then a golden opportunity presents itself to you even if by mistake? A chance which would be morally wrong and to be honest wrong in every sense of the word but still if accepted would change your world forever easing the burden of debt. What would you do in this case? That's the question that stayed in my mind throughout this book.
Tina does exactly what I have just mentioned with the ease of simply pressing a button. It's an accident right? It couldn't be classed as stealing more like a simple mistake that the company didn't know a refund had already been given. Sure wouldn't anyone do it when they are endlessly faced with wealth and glamour that is not appreciated when you yourself know you would value the money far more? Well I wouldn't and if Tina hadn't there would have been no story at all. A story that to me that was quite fascinating that someone with the help of some so called new friends could pull such a thing off let alone go and take things a step further. OK the step further was to be some sort of retribution but really I didn't feel that way about it. They had come to that point by devious means and their actions appalled me. I can't say I warmed to any of the characters but I didn't hate them .It's just I couldn't feel any empathy for them as they had gotten themselves into a situation of their own making.
Not being totally enamoured with the characters didn't mean I didn't enjoy the book I did because it was something new, fresh and original and honestly I think it will divide readers as to how they feel regarding the central characters. Now Tina faces an even bigger quandary than she had first planned upon the click of that button. Fellow assistant to a man also very high up in the Triton company Emily, has found out just what Tina has done and boy does she want in on the plan. Just what has Tina gotten herself into and will her desperation for money lead ultimately to her downfall?
Right from the opening line the reader is completely and utterly sucked in to this corporate world where money is spent at an alarming rate. A world where us mere mortals could not even begin to comprehend for its lavishness but on the other hand its cut throat attitude. Treat them mean and keep them keen. As I read on my sense of incredulousness increased with each chapter at just the huge mess the girls had gotten themselves into. Were we supposed to feel sympathy for them? Yes there are two sides to every story but god they knew what they were doing even as the situation grew legs and went out of Tina's control. Emily was forward, pushy and a stronger character than Tina and Tina really hadn't the power to stand up to Emily. Emily had a hold over her and she was determined to exert it and strengthen her grip. But I suppose once you take that leap into the some what unknown to climb back out takes a lot of work, strength and in this case even more lies to get back out of it. I think Tina justified her initial actions by these rules – '1. All important men have assistants. 2. Men still rule the world. 3. There is enough money. There is so much money'. She obviously felt so bogged down by her college debt that when an opportunity presented itself she did what felt right at the time. But little did she release the tangled web she was getting involved in. After all nothing in this world stays secret for long and there will always be a paper trail or in this day and age an electronic trail.
Bribery, corruption, blackmail, embezzlement call it what you will but what the girls became involved in and once it starts the net can only grow wider. Tina and Emily began to enjoy the power they were exerting although realistically they couldn't let their 'situation' become too well known 'As Robert Barlow's assistant, I understand the value of being in close proximity to power of being powers gatekeeper, everyone who was anyone owed me a favour, and if they didn't owe me a favour they were dying to'. As things grow evermore outside of the initial idea it seemed things really were taken out of Tina's hands and she was faced with no other choice but to go along for the ride. Still the burning question remained with me would you really have done what she did even if in the long term what the Wendi character does benefits people? As the story unfolds maybe the original idea was meant to with the best of intentions in Tina's mind although not mine but Wendi's idea showed a softer side that may give you second thoughts regarding opinions you had already formed.
The Assistants provided me with a refreshingly different read, the author dared to go where many others would not venture and didn't hit us with any of the clichés of the genre. I am growing a bit tired of the same old formulas used over and over again and thankfully romance wasn't the dominant feature here, more a group of women getting revenge and turning into something totally different. Yes there is some romance but really the book would have managed absolutely fine without it and honestly I didn't pay it much attention too absorbed was I in discovering would the girls be discovered and how would it be dealt with if so. My one complaint regrading the book was everything was set up so well, then things moved along at a slow enough pace it was like the author had slightly run out of steam for a period. Then all of a sudden we jump forward and it was like a race had begun as if the author realised I have a certain quota and need to get the book completed within that frame. It seemed like she didn't know what to do and needed to get to the end quickly. So I feel the ending was slightly rushed and not as strong as it could have been. That said this was a very good, quick read and I enjoyed it for the subject matter being outside the box and an eye opener. The Assistants would make a perfect film. I could imagine groups of women heading for a night out at the cinema enjoying watching Tina and co deal with the fall out of what they started. I'd definitely love to read more from Camille Perri as I believe she has merely scratched the surface of what she is capable of.
Many thanks to Sarah Harwood from Transworld for my copy of The Assistants to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.