Camille Perri wastes no time diving into the shady world of embezzlement in her first novel, “The Assistants.” Perri takes readers on an emotional moral journey when one innocent act becomes a huge can of worms.
Tina Fontana is a 30-year-old assistant to one of the most powerful men in the world. Robert Barlow owns a media conglomerate, so money is no object. When Tina hastily uses her own credit card to pay for a last-minute plane ticket for Barlow, she laughs at the idea that the price is roughly the same amount as her remaining student loan. Her moral journey begins when the company pays her expense report just as the airline decides to reimburse Barlow’s ticket, since it was an honor that he chose to fly with them.
Tina knows the money is a drop in the bucket to her boss. If she keeps her mouth shut, no one will ever find out. Plus, now that she’s debt-free, she can finally move on to bigger and better things instead of being someone’s coffee-and-doughnut runner.
Naturally, Tina’s secret is uncovered. Another assistant named Emily threatens to turn her in if Tina doesn’t help her pay off her own student loans. Soon the secret operation experiences a ripple effect and Tina finds herself being forced to slowly steal money from the man who considers her a daughter. Sure he’s horrible at times, but he trusts Tina with every detail of his life. This is highly advantageous for Tina since she’s being blackmailed by more than one person.
“The Assistants” isn’t only about a corporate embezzlement job that quickly gets out of hand, it’s also a story about some people taking privilege for granted while others face the skyrocketing price of a college education. Although Tina’s actions aren’t justified, the book does provide a way to open a dialogue about women who are overeducated, underpaid and still in the role of an assistant.