Listen up you cubicle captives, statistical parameterizers, percentage purveyors!
When we say we are 95% sure that you will like The Percentages Men, we mean that in the bell curve world inhabited by Gisby’s characters, we think you will be in the middle 95% of the curve. We are not bothering with the standard deviations.
Whether it is a biannual public attitudes tracker survey about food and nutrition, or a survey about changing attitudes in Northern Ireland, or a salary survey or an investigation of complaints from council tenants, apparently social research is BIG BUSINESS in the United Kingdom.
Gisby’s novel could be set in most any sort of corporation. Those who power modern offices in their hamster wheels every day set will recognize the infighting and intrigues that infuse most office settings, the time wasted on assuaging egos, arguing about parking spaces and corner offices. In The Percentages Men we have James Boston, a/k/a Jimbo, the star statistician; Dan McKay, a good manager; Jack Lamb, an ironic name for a ruthless person obsessed with his own power; and Neville Brown, the familiar “yes” man who looks out for his own interests and marches around with the Territorial Army in his spare time. By the way, Gisby’s corporations have women directors too.
There is a quest for the “secret formula,” vacation villas, “greasy” accountants, takeover deals and lots of suspense. Then, of course, the office romances; raucous parties; dreaming and scheming keep the reader turning the pages. Also, unexpectedly, there is the underlying tension between the Belfast men and the Scottish men; between Catholics and Protestants, as the novel starts in 1985. But the reader will also learn a bit about random probability sampling, sample sizes and other information useful in evaluating the blizzard of studies which hit the newspapers outside of the novel every day. The reader’s bonus is an introduction to the Belfast way of speaking, some Scottish slang and a perspective on public transportation versus using one’s private automobile, so it is.
Gisby writes with the assurance of one who worked his way up in business, from a poor family in South Queensferry in Edinburgh to an author’s retirement in Perthshire. His characters are well-developed. The plot does not plod! The Percentages Men moves along smartly. Market Surveys Scotland goes through many incarnations. On the way to a conglomerate (MSUK), Market Surveys Northern Ireland, Market Surveys North-East arise along with changes in share values, divisions arising and dying, directors being hired and fired.
We learn the fate of each main character at the end including one character who “reinvented himself as a writer, an author.” “… Maybe one of these days he’ll write a book about MSUK.” Well, I think he did and I’m glad he did. I enjoyed this novel.