The author would like this book to be an uplifting story about a group of justice-seeking EEOC investigators fighting the good fight in support of deserving underdog employees. Unfortunately, the book is so poorly written, so badly constructed, so inaccurate about the legal issues and EEOC procedures, and so lacking in a coherent plot, that it is virtually unreadable. If you do make it to the end, you will be miserably disappointed, rather than uplifted or inspired. Do yourself a favor and don’t start.
The beginning of the story is illogical, confusing, boring, and totally unnecessary and unconnected to the rest of the book. There is also an absence of time markers to let the reader know the time frame in which everything is happening. Alice Arden, a senior EEOC staffer and, apparently, the director of the New Orleans district office, is mysteriously summoned to Washington, D.C. She meets with the Chair of the Commission, who gives her a new assignment – to head up a “task force” in Austin, Texas. The mission of this task force is never clear, except that there is one case the Chair really wants Alice to personally handle, involving an allegation of sexual harassment against the grandson of a high-profile Republican super-donor. Alice, along with the other staffers who are assigned to the task force, must move to Austin without any relocation expenses provided by the government. She agrees on the spot and immediately flies to Texas (without packing or making any arrangements for moving her life there). This makes little sense given that Alice suffers from a degenerative leg injury and severe anxiety that she self-medicates with alcohol, that the author provides no explanation for why she would make this career move.) In Austin, she finds a ramshackle abandoned building in a sketchy neighborhood where the agency has set up an office for the task force. There is no explanation for why the task force wouldn’t be embedded within the existing regional office. She is joined by a senior trial attorney (there is no explanation for why this small task force needs one attorney or what his role is supposed to be since they have no cases even close to being ready for litigation), who leaves his confused and angry wife behind in Atlanta and treks to Austin to join the team, although he hates Alice (from some unexplained prior dealing).
Alice and the lawyer, Inman, are soon joined by a small team of investigators and an administrative assistant with a severe disability (sociophobia), and are told to “get out there and find lots of discrimination.” This entire set-up is both farcical and unnecessary. The EEOC would never slap together a task force with no particular mission and set it up in an abandoned medical office. More importantly, there is nothing about the rest of the story that requires this elaborate and illogical set-up. The author could just as easily have made Alice the regional director of the Austin office, and Inman a staff attorney working there. The rest of the story (such as it is) would have been exactly the same, except for a lot of extraneous and irrelevant scenes related to the move-in, the introduction of the new staff members, etc.
Then, we (finally) get a quick snippet of information about the “Big” sexual harassment case, which is supposed to be the main plot for the book, right? But it’s just a sniff – an incomplete start of the woman’s story. Then the author launches us into three or four other cases being investigated by the staff – none of which are connected and none of which involve systemic discrimination, which begs the question of why these cases in particular were assigned to the task force rather than the normal regional office. Those cases meander along while Alice deals with her own deteriorating physical condition, struggles with her alcoholism, and fights with Inman over office politic issues (since Inman has little else to do). We learn that just about everyone in this office is biased against somebody else (based on homophobia, or disgust for people with disabilities, or prejudice against Hispanics, etc.) which seems really odd for a group all working for the EEOC. The “Big” case is missing in action for a while, then Alice meets alone with the harassed woman as she tearfully finishes telling her story. (Although she is represented by a high-profile plaintiff’s lawyer, he somehow allows her to meet privately with the EEOC investigator and give a signed affidavit of her story live at the meeting without the lawyer having any input.) Then this plot goes on hold because the man accused of the harassment is out of the country until the end of the year. (I realize that I’m sensitive to the accuracy of the legal and procedural issues here. I’m an employment lawyer and I like to see stories like this come at least close to being accurate.)(
So, we follow the other cases, none of which is particularly suspenseful. We learn very little about the investigators or about Alice, aside from her Singapore Sling recipe. There is precious little character development at all in the whole book. The author introduces a new character mid-book, who is hired fresh out of prison without any prior experience, and who is little more than a distraction. Then, Mr. Big comes back to town and denies everything. Alice is stumped – it’s he-said vs. she-said. Not only is there no pressure coming from the Chair (who sent her out to Austin specifically to handle this one big case), but the Chair then decides that, since there’s not more evidence (there’s one very tenuous bit of additional evidence, but not much), the case should be closed down. What? (I know that’s a bit of a spoiler, but since the Big case doesn’t ever go anywhere – there’s no hearing, no trial, no big reveal, no tearful confession, no new evidence found by the diligent investigating team, just a big nothing – there’s really nothing to spoil. Except that if you start reading this book and expect that this Big case is going to be the focus and there’s going to be a big payoff at the end – you’ll be wrong. There is no payoff. There is no resolution. You think while reading that all the other tangential investigations are just side-plots. They are not particularly interesting, but you’re expecting to get back to the main plot – and then it turns out that the side plots are all there is.)
In the end, the task force resolves a few minor cases. There is no mystery and no great drama. Why this task force even exists is the only mystery, and that is never explained.
To make matters worse, the writing is spotty at best. There are frequent punctuation, spacing, and language issues. The author has a penchant for starting sentences with adverbs or adjectives. The characters are wooden. The dialogue is stilted and mostly very unnatural, with occasional legal phrases thrown in, often incorrectly. There is a farcical “trial” scene when Inman, the lawyer, shows up in court without any prior process, and without notice to the other party, seeking a temporary restraining order to prevent a business owner from being in the same room as his employees. The depiction and discussion of the legal issues in this book includes so much that is wrong that it makes me wonder if the author has any actual experience. The alternative is that she simply couldn’t make anything resembling reality work in her narrative. (This is not to imply that everything is wrong. There are some passages that accurately explain things like the need for granting reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, which I think was part of the point of the book. But, so much is wrong that a lay reader won’t be able to distinguish between the fact and the fiction.)
I really don’t enjoy writing bad reviews. I hope that this author will work to improve her story outline, improve her characters, and improve her general writing ability if she continues publishing (and there is already a sequel to his book pre-viewed at the end). I wish her luck. As a reader, you should avoid this book and be very wary of the next one from Ms. Watts.