Published in Sep-Oct 2022
The intriguing, glamorous and covetous world of advertising, an enigma that embodies the mind, soul and impulse of doing business, rather ruthlessly, has been aptly presented in a 340-page book Head Lion, by debutant Neil Peter Christy. It is his first attempt at writing a novel and he has done a splendid job. It captivates the essence of the profession in all its sublime and condescending ways, and supersedes any such work undertaken by a practitioner from Pakistan. Formerly an advertising guru from Karachi and now settled with his family in the Washington D.C. area, Christy has dug expressively into the advertising world with metaphoric skill. His work of fiction seems so real in many ways.
Christy’s website gives a brief introduction to Head Lion: Ryan Walker, an award-winning creative director, is envious of people with goals. The only desire he has is to kill himself. That ambition ends when his boss, Gabriel Todd Christopher, tries to kill him. Paralysed and broke, Ryan wakes up in an exclusive club for retired billionaires called Head Lion. Ryan has no idea why the biggest media tycoon in New York wants him dead. No idea why he’s getting help anonymously. No idea about the secrets that surround him. And no idea how to get even. The only thing Ryan knows is that he does not want his revenge to be ordinary. He wants it to be epic. And to make that happen, he needs his biggest rival in the advertising world and the dusted and forgotten mavens in Head Lion. As he prepares for the greatest coup the advertising world has ever seen, he grapples with hidden enemies, his newfound penchant for crime, and a deadline he can’t afford to miss.
New York is a place to be in, shimmering in all its inequities. NY does not wait for anyone, the pace is incredible. Christy’s work evolves around the environs of this pulsating city, as he explains how the Big Apple embraces you and how quickly October arrives to remind the “rats in the race” that autumn is almost there, and things get a little slower. He emphasises that scotch is tempting and women lonely. In this melee, Ryan is hurrying with his pitch amidst the mayhem of New York City. He is a sought-after creative director but he too is running against time and his detractors. Ryan’s character is befitting a profession that allegedly thrives on the fringes of excellence, be it creative ideas, deceptive lies, manipulation or even throwing a colleague or competitor under the bus. The book seems to manifest in all its linguistic parlance that all is fair in love and war! It’s the advertising world, but is it all that harsh and dirty?
Ryan’s success in the advertising world is due to his skill as a good reader of minds; as a matter of fact, as an adolescent he made his father win a lot of money at poker by reading the minds of other players! He used this natural talent in almost everything, including landing his first job at Sun Advertising – the leading ad agency in Manhattan. Todd the CEO liked Ryan for his intelligence, enticing him with all the swanky perks of the job. He even gives Ryan an offer to be his partner.
The author’s candid dialect in describing the callous world of advertising is understandable. Being in the profession for two eventful decades in Pakistan and now in the blistering pace of NYC, he does a swell job of portraying both the game, its crooked rules and the players in a crafty manner. Head Lion is a book to read for all those whose work involves dealing, negotiating, and strategising from both sides of the table.
New York and advertising come at a high price. Another character in this marvellous work of fiction is Kate Raymond who represents a competitor agency and proves that the time has come for women to rule the advertising world. Her belief is that “to climb to the top, you have to break a few shoulders with your heels.” She had proven that by 28, climbing up the echelon, with “flings” thrown in for good measure, was a matter of how you are perceived to be – intelligently, emotionally or physically. She is Ryan’s competitor at work, a courtesan at play and the key link to his destructive goal.
Todd on the other hand had a rough, shadowy childhood. Born of Polish immigrants, both his parents died with their boots on to find sustenance for their son. It’s a sad and testing story for the entire family, including Todd, entertaining their ‘visitors’. This bitter truth made Todd a tough cookie, street smart, and acquire the ability to walk into any situation, ‘with confidence’ – it was his door to success. He believed now was his time to turn the table on his ‘visitors’ and relish every opportunity to threaten them with their immoral ways. His skills as a negotiator were getting better by the day and soon, he was to become the most successful advertising magnet on the Manhattan circuit.
Known and accepted to be a tough profession, advertising makes and breaks the careers and lives of people wherever it is practised. It is supposedly about power, big money, vengeance, and foul play; overriding the basic principles of the profession – to service the client and promote the essence of its products and services. Competition is tough, and there is always someone around the corner ready to pounce on one’s client through dubious ways. This is the advertising world and its proponents come out so clearly. It gave me a clearer view of the sinister ways.
Head Lion is a book to read, especially by those who crave to understand the underworld of advertising. It’s a world on its own. The tough competition, the intrigues, misrepresentations, jealousy, absurdity, backstabbing, blackmailing, bribes and the ubiquitous farce at both ends. It’s a cruel world but a glamorous one, and to cut a long story short, in Ryan’s own words upon winning yet another million-dollar retainer client, “This the reason why millions of people love the advertising world. This is better than sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.”
Head Lion has an amazing plot, to decipher how on earth Ryan (pursuing his revenge) and his ‘anonymous’ cohorts can (or hoodwinked on the contrary) clinch Sun’s top five clients in 30 days! The team goes crazy, “like a Ferrari on steroids” as the skeletons in the cupboards of the five clients come to life. Todd’s Titanic is about to hit the iceberg as Ryan and his choristers sing Abide with Me. I would rate this book to be among the best sellers of its kind.
Kudos to Neil Peter Christy to have put his thoughts together in a manner that brings out the world of advertising through the actions of his colourful and free-wheeling characters. Each one, paradoxically, is an example of the people who rule this enchanting world of deception. His first work of fiction seems so real.
Head Lion By Neil Peter Christy Published by Neil Peter Christy 340 pp, $16.49 ISBN: 979-8986332109
Menin Rodrigues is a Toronto-based communications consultant and author. firstname.lastname@example.org