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The Shelton Mill: A Novel of Corporate Greed and Political Corruption

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Worth reading 😎

Ellen Larkin has a killer story that will reveal much of the corruption in Boston’s construction industry, but she has to live to tell it!

Synopsis

Ellen Larkin longs to write a blockbuster exposé. As Senior Investigative Reporter at the Boston Chronicle, she covers political and business crimes affecting the citizens of Massachusetts--and dreams of winning a Pulitzer Prize.

When the Chronicle lays Ellen off, she is heartbroken. Driven by her near-empty bank account and the needs of her ailing mother, she applies for a job at Gargantua, a lucrative recruitment website headquartered in the Shelton Mill. Before she even gets the job, she stumbles upon clues that link the company to illegal venture capital stolen from Boston's Big Dig project. Is this the story she's dreamed of writing?

Boston's Irish and Italian mobs, looking to cash in on Gargantua's profits, will stop at nothing to halt Ellen's investigation. With the help of two unconventional co-workers at Gargantua, can she uncover the truth before the crooks silence her forever?

First and foremost, a large thank you to Reedsy Discovery and Elaine Gavigan for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.


Looking for something a little more conspiratorial, I turned to this novel by Elaine Gavigan. The Shelton Mill offers readers a glimpse into a story that explores how greed and political corruption make for strange (and usual) bedfellows, leaving the ‘little gal’ to push back and fight for the truth. A decent read, though not as stirring as I would have hoped, given the dust jacket blurb.


Ellen Larkin enjoys working as an investigative reporter with the Boston Chronicle and has been compiling information on a major story about kickbacks in the construction industry. However, due to a massive diminution in advertising revenue, she’s handed a pink slip by the newspaper and sent on her way.


Her dreams of a Pulitzer dashed and a bank account on fumes, Ellen is forced to look for work. While her reputation precedes her, she knows that a job in journalism is a lofty ask so quickly agrees to a position at Gargantua, a recruitment company that has been siphoning the aforementioned advertising dollars from the Chronicle.Things are a tad strange when she arrives for an interview, but Ellen chalks it up to her own paranoia. 


With Gargantua located in the Shelton Mill, a piece of property with a long history all its own, Ellen knows that she’s in for an interesting work experience. Early in her training, she comes across something that leads her to believe that Guarantua’s tied in with the construction scheme she had been investigating. Might her time here allow Ellen to covertly gather intel for the story of a lifetime, positioning her to be brought back to the Chronicle and offered a Pulitzer?


As organised crime in Boston is as intense as ever, with both the Irish and Italians happy to stick their fingers in as many corrupt pies as possible, Ellen will have to be attuned to those who may wish to silence her. One wrong move could ruin her chances and leave her footing in the Charles River, another crime statistic the Chronicle may not even cover!


While this appears to be the first published novel by Elaine Gavigan, there is a great deal of potential. The ingredients are there for something gripping, though it takes a little time for the narrative to heat up to the point that I was fully committed.


Ellen Larkin serves as a decent protagonist for this piece. Her dreams of reaching journalism’s elite halls may not have yet been realised, but she knows her stuff. With an interesting backstory, she puts all her efforts into earning her paycheque by being intuitive and gritty. Struggling to make ends meet, she does all she can to keep the money coming in and yet she cannot help but feel she’s owed something. 


Gavigan uses a large array of characters to keep the story on point, pulling on Boston’s varying cross-section of cultures and socio-economic groups. Many of those who grace the pages serve to push the story along, though there are ties when things lag and I might have sought less backstory or tangential character development. Still, there’s something intriguing about her character choices, all of whom complement one another as the piece progresses.


The premise of the story worked well for me, with corruption embedded into the core of the city’s largest construction project, The Big Dig. While things started off well, there was a point when I was waving my hands in the air to get back to the central theme of the story and lessen Guarantua’s superficial public persona. Gavigan knows how to writer and can set a scene effectively, but it lacked the needed momentum for me to remain hooked with the plot. 


Shorter chapters worked to keep me pushing onward, but I needed something more to hold my attention, rather than tap my finger as I tried to keep my attention focussed on the next major reveal. I’d likely return for another novel, as Ellen Larkin has some sass worth seeing developed on another occasion.


Kudos, Madam Gavigan, for a great debut (I presume) novel. You’ve got some talent that needs a little developing for greater success.

Reviewed by

I love to read and review all sorts of books. My passion is crime and thrillers, but there are so many other genres that pique my attention.

While I am not a full-time reader, I try to dedicate as much time to my passion as possible, as can be seen on my blog and Goodreads.

Synopsis

Ellen Larkin longs to write a blockbuster exposé. As Senior Investigative Reporter at the Boston Chronicle, she covers political and business crimes affecting the citizens of Massachusetts--and dreams of winning a Pulitzer Prize.

When the Chronicle lays Ellen off, she is heartbroken. Driven by her near-empty bank account and the needs of her ailing mother, she applies for a job at Gargantua, a lucrative recruitment website headquartered in the Shelton Mill. Before she even gets the job, she stumbles upon clues that link the company to illegal venture capital stolen from Boston's Big Dig project. Is this the story she's dreamed of writing?

Boston's Irish and Italian mobs, looking to cash in on Gargantua's profits, will stop at nothing to halt Ellen's investigation. With the help of two unconventional co-workers at Gargantua, can she uncover the truth before the crooks silence her forever?

Ellen



Friday, July 2 marked the unofficial start of 2004’s Independence Day weekend, but even at 6:30 a.m. minivans and sport utility vehicles—loaded with bikes, beach umbrellas, and surfboards—clogged Centre Street in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The traffic only worsened reporter Ellen Larkin’s mood, which always plummeted after the July 1 anniversary of her father’s death in Vietnam twenty-nine years earlier. As a posthumous baby born less than a trimester after his funeral, she treasured her few pictures of Patrick Larkin, US Marine Corps, from whom she’d inherited curly black hair, blue eyes and a complexion that sunburned even on cloudy days. Every July she comforted herself with the thought that her grief was living proof that her father had lived and longed for her arrival.

Now Ellen struggled to tamp down her sadness. The deadline for the Boston Chronicle’s Sunday edition was hitting at 10:30, giving her just four hours to write her blockbuster exposé, warning Route I-93 commuters of two highway tunnels—the crown jewels of Boston’s Big Dig project—built with substandard concrete. She didn’t want to imagine all the kids who would suffer the trauma of parental loss if either of the brand-new tunnels, which ran north and south under the city’s harbor, collapsed onto rush hour traffic.

Ellen’s car—a Saturn, bought used several winters ago—lacked air conditioning, so sweat beaded on her forehead by the time she screeched into a parking spot at the Chronicle’s Dorchester headquarters. As she hurried through the lobby, she had to swerve to avoid colliding with the vice president of marketing. The woman carried a pile of framed plaques and held a cell phone to her ear with her shoulder.

“The tuition check to Boston College.” The marketing vice president’s voice was panicked. “Cancel it. Cancel it today.”

Ellen suffered a bout of acid reflux, a nervous condition—she’d suffered from it since sixth grade—that left her too thin for someone five feet nine inches tall. The rumor mill screwed up, she thought. The layoffs weren’t supposed to happen until after Labor Day.

She pulled open the newsroom door—and almost collapsed with relief. Every desk was full, and none of her colleagues packed cardboard boxes. Her best friend, Shilpa Gupta, sat at the desk behind hers, just as she’d sat for the seven years since they both were hired as newspaper stringers.

Ellen’s relief didn’t last long. The usual noisy buzz was gone, replaced by an uncomfortable silence. She weaved across the newsroom, past desk after desk with a reporter or editor hard at work—too hard. Usually on a Friday morning there’d be clusters of photographers and copywriters scattered throughout the newsroom, sipping coffee, and discussing weekend plans to go down to Martha’s Vineyard or up to Lake Winnipesaukee. Today all she could hear was the click of computer keys.

She sank into her desk chair and faced Shilpa. “How many people have been let go?”

Shilpa hadn’t even poured her morning tea yet and she’d worried a strand of her long black hair out of its ponytail. “The entire Printing Division’s been outsourced.”

At the front of the newsroom, Editor-in-Chief Schuyler Hobbes avoided eye contact with his reporters. Schuyler—a head taller and thirty-seven years older than Ellen, built like the weekend rugby player that he was, and more of a mentor to her than a boss—had won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 for his coverage of the South Boston busing riots, during which he’d been attacked by rock-throwing thugs—Ellen’s childhood neighbors from the Old Colony Housing Project—who couldn’t stomach a Black man setting foot in Southie. Years later, his attempts to interrogate a defendant outside a courthouse had left him with a broken right cheekbone, an incident he avoided discussing. Now Schuyler’s eyes were outlined with puffy circles, and Ellen suspected he’d already taken a few swigs from the whiskey flask he kept in his briefcase.

Ellen had survived a prior round of layoffs, so she knew the routine—management worked fast. By 8:30, each unfortunate employee would be taken to Human Resources, stripped of his or her keycard, given a handshake, and escorted to the lobby. The layoff would conclude with a staff meeting in which Henry Crowninshield, the Chronicle’s longtime publisher, reassured jittery employees.

“If you’re still here, you’re safe,” Henry would say. “The layoff is over.”

It was a good sign if you had an invitation to the post-layoff meeting in your email when you arrived in that morning. Ellen faced her computer and drummed her fingernails against the desk as she waited for the Outlook program to open.

There was no invitation. There were no new emails at all.

She swiveled around again. “Were you invited to a staff meeting?” 

Shilpa wore a red bindi dot—for strength and good luck—between her eyebrows, which crinkled as her dark eyes brimmed with tears. “My inbox is empty.”

Ellen turned and yanked open her top desk drawer, ransacked it for a box of antacids, and palmed two tablets into her mouth. She reached for the cup of day-old water beside her desk phone and gulped down the antacids.

Ellen’s stomach ached like she was growing an ulcer. She took a deep, calming breath and reached into her tote for the manila envelope that Consolidated Industries foreman Buzz Callahan had smuggled out to her.

“Like Play-Doh,” the foreman had said. “The concrete in the tunnels poured like Play-Doh.”

As she opened a Word document, Henry entered the newsroom. Henry’s lined face bore a pallor that revealed he hadn’t slept the night before, and his blue seersucker suit hung off him.

Henry tapped Norbert Chang’s shoulder. Norbert sagged in his chair. 

Employees watched as Norbert followed Henry to Human Resources, while Ellen pretended to write words that made sense. Every few minutes Henry slipped back into the newsroom, and again and again a colleague suffered the tap on the shoulder she dreaded. A columnist on the editorial page. A political reporter. Even Kamala T. Jamison, a rival who in 1999 had beaten Ellen to a story about the city’s plummeting murder rate. After that, Kamala insisted that her byline include her middle initial, in homage to the illustrious reporter Edward R. Murrow.

Ellen was ashamed to feel a little smug as Kamala packed up. Her eyes darted to the clock on the lower right-hand corner of her computer desktop.

“Eight o’clock,” she whispered to Shilpa. “If we make it another half-hour, we’re safe.”

Once again, Ellen toggled to her email, but all she got back was the “Send/ Receive Complete” message. She’d never hated a message more. She closed her eyes and said a silent Hail Mary prayer that she’d be one of the employees gathered in the post-layoff meeting, feeling torn between relief at retaining her job—and guilt over the good friends losing theirs.

Please, she whispered. Let Shilpa be standing right beside me.

She opened her eyes and her fingers typed fast.

A reliable source inside Consolidated Industries alleges that these payoffs were…

Henry reentered the newsroom and Ellen’s fingers started typing in a new language. The language of the terrified.

Designed to ensure yhar occiaks…

As Henry turned down her aisle, her hands shook so hard she could no longer type.

Keep walking, she thought. Oh, please don’t stop.

Henry strode past her desk without even a glance. A desk later, he did stop.

“Shilpa.” He cleared his throat. “Please join me in Human Resources.”

Ellen stifled a cry. She pressed the Delete key and retyped her sentence.

… to ensure that officials would conduct cursory inspections.

As Shilpa walked by, Ellen reached out and squeezed her hand. Her friend’s fingers were clammy, and they slid from her grip.

Ellen had to struggle not to weep and she found it impossible to follow what she was writing. All she could watch were the digits of the computer clock, crawling to safety.

The clock hit 8:14. Once more, she toggled back to her email and hit the F9 key, but once more, no invitation to the post-layoff meeting appeared. By now her story was full of typos and few of its sentences made any grammatical sense.

Then, at 8:27, she felt it. Even though her shoulder had been anticipating its sting, the tap of Henry’s finger still burned.

Eyes watering, she looked up. The anguish on Henry’s face evoked the image of a sea captain on a foundering vessel, ordering a beloved crew to abandon ship.

“Ellen,” he said. “Would you join me in Human Resources?”

In one last bow to the job she loved, she hit the Save button on her Word document before closing it. She stood up, but her knees wobbled, and the room spun around her.

Henry reached out, and she braced herself against the desk that was no longer hers. She picked up the manila envelope full of invoices and bills of lading that Callahan had given her and followed the path laid out by a dozen ashen-faced colleagues before her. The path that led away from the only job she’d ever wanted to do, with her best friend sitting right behind her.

When she reached Schuyler’s desk, she stopped. Schuyler’s eyes met hers and she slammed the envelope down on her now-former boss’s desk. She knew she could trust him with the information Callahan had given her.

“Promise me you’ll call this foreman,” she said. “He was going to bring me underground on Sunday night. People will die if you don’t investigate the tunnels.”



About the author

I am passionate about great storytelling and want to share my thoughts on fiction that worked, or didn’t work, for me. I hope to learn how to write better from analyzing the books that I am reading. view profile

Published on October 20, 2020

80000 words

Contains explicit content ⚠️

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Thriller & Suspense

Reviewed by

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