March 2002

The Rose Engagement

By Richard E. and Beverly A. Brown

Shaffer, Brown & Associates, 202 pages, ISBN: 0-9648742-0-2, $15

Reviewed by Robert H. Colson, PhD, CPA, The CPA Journal

In this book, the auditors are the good guys in white hats, unmasking a massive fraud by adhering to principle in the face of a client’s argument that the transaction amount was too small to be material. Does this sound too good to be true when the news headlines blare the media’s perception of accounting and auditing failure? Do such things happen only in books? Alternatively, can we become better, more perceptive accountants by reading about accounting role models, albeit fictional?

These questions ran through my mind as I read the Browns’ accounting teaching novel on the train during two days when my fellow commuters were engrossed in the latest news about Enron, and the novel held my interest throughout.

The Rose Engagement has intrigue, murder, and action. The story unfolds as a Cleveland CPA firm accepts an engagement to pursue a Yellow Book audit of certain functions of the White House executive staff. The audit goes smoothly until an audit manager stumbles across a transaction that a temporary employee had mistakenly paid from the wrong fund. When the audit manager tries to resolve this audit question according to standard audit procedures, the chief of staff tries to evade her routine questions. She decides to track down the details of the transaction, but before she can get started she becomes the victim of a hit-and-run accident. The story unfolds from there, and you will like the book better if you read the denouement for yourself.

Because The Rose Engagement is a teaching novel, it emphasizes abstractions such as auditor independence, GAAP, GAAS, GAGAAS, and auditor responsibilities and ethics. The characters are not well developed—probably because the novel’s primary objective is to teach about certain accounting responsibilities—and the plot is also fairly straightforward and uncomplicated, again because of the novel’s teaching focus. Nonetheless, at only a few points does the book becomes self-consciously and obviously didactic, such as when a partner explains to a staff accountant that GAAP stands for … you see my point.

Some accounting circles bemoan the dearth of strong CPA role models in literature and film—doctors, detectives, government agents, lawyers, professors, and athletes seem to get the best parts. Would more popular movies and books about accountants persuade more young people to enter the profession? Read The Rose Engagement and form your own conclusions about the desirability of a literature about accountants. If we need heroes, can we find them in fiction?

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