Herb Schmertz is the Mobil vice president, currently on leave as media consultant to the Kennedy presidential campaign who, according to taste, is credited with or blamed for his corporation's aggressive advocacy advertising. Mobil's briefs for itself and its industry generally are esteemed the best examples of a depressing genre.
The publisher's blurb enthusiastically calls Schmertz's first novel, "Takeover," (which he's written with Larry Woods, another Mobil executive), "an exiting, revealing story of explosive passion and relentless ambition." Commerical hype aside, the book is good to read. Although the prose is graceless, the characters cardboard figures and the plot standard executive-suite fare, the action is swift, the suspense moderately acute and the denouement adequately startling. "Takeover" will waste an evening at least as agreeably as Howard Cosell and Monday Night Football.
The story revolves around the rivalry of two young and aggressive vice-presidents for the big job when an aging chief executive officier at last retires. Norman Larson, the ruthless head of Northeastern's leisure products division, puts his chips on an expensive film he is producing that, if it wows them at the box office, will vastly enlarge the size and profitability of his division and cream his bitter enemy and rival, Carlton Hughes. For his part, Carly, as his much married and enormously wealthy mistress, Caroline Lefevre, lovingly addresses him, bases his campaign on a major corporate acquisition, stodgy Williamson Industries. If Carly, our hero, can bring this coup off he will be the tycoon of the hour and a cinch to leave Norman at the post.
The chief executive officer seems in a mood to sabotage both schemes. No wonder Carly in exasperation calls him "that old f--t." In graceful diction, Caroline sets him staight: "Darling, try to show some couth . . . After all, good old Tom Alderson may be fat, and he may be getting on, but a man of his position is not an old f--t!" She warns her love that "you'll never be part of the business establishment unless you stop using such language." Tom just hates takeovers as crude and ungentlemanly. Nor does he admire speculative projects like flicks that dramatically run over thie budgets. How then can Norman, be he ever so amoral, rustle up the millions of dollars he must have to finish his film without confessing to Tom that his earlier cost estimates were in wild error? How, for that matter, can Carly buy up Williamson and make Tom admire him for the operation?
Carly decides to aim a fait accompli. He plans to buy stock in Williamson without informing his superior. How to get the money to do so? Not from Caroline. Male pride forbids. He enlists Ricci, Northeastern's computer wizard, whose progress within the company has been impeded by Tom's prejudice against Italians. This duo then cooks up an intricate scheme of theft by computer whose details I can not reveal because I still don't quite grasp how the caper works. Along the way, Caroline is enormously helpful because she just happens to own a large block of Williamson stock.
For his part, Norman, whose attractives tastes run to sadism, blackmail and sexual perversion, gets involved with a villanious Greek financier who fronts for the mob. In the titanic struggle between Carly, who is guilty of nothing worse than adultery and grand larcency, and Norman, who is equipped with not a solitary socially redeeming virtue, flawed good triumphs over evil of deepest dye. By novel's end, Carly is Tom's fair-haired boy. His most immediate problem is redecorating Tom's old offices. Norman is paid off. There are hints that Caroline and Carly are ready to enter into a more meaningful relationship.
Does this tale have any meaning beyond the probable aspiration of Schmertz and his fellow vice president Larry Woods to rival the success of "The Crash of '79"? I think that the authors mean well by the corporate world, which had done well for them. It is suggested from time to time that the takeover will improve Williamson's efficiency by improving its handling of cash. Carly, the winner, knows about machines and factories, and Norman, the loser, only about frivolous artifacts like movies. Schmertz and Woods may be suggesting that capitalism is strong enough to survive even the shenanigans they lovingly detail.
On the other hand, the pair just might be closet socialists, who like others before them, deploy fiction thinly to disguise the genuine corruption of the corporate world. After all, most of the novel does not deal with cash flow, managerial efficiency and per captial productivity, rarely the stuff of best-sellers. For the most part, the sex is steamy, the language that of the Nixon tapes, and the characters' maneuvers, when not actually criminal, examples of nasty bureaucraticmanipulation, sexism and private blackmail. Some naive soul, after dining on this feast of iniquity, might conclude that this is the way it really is. At any rate, "Takeover" is less likely to damage public health and morals that the Mobil ads. Keep writing, Herb.