Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

The Better Mousetrap The Better Mousetrap
by Tom Holt

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson

The blurb on the back of Tom Holt's new novel promises us a book in which Frank Carpenter, one of the foremost magical practitioners of our age, meets Jane, a high flying corporate executive with a habit of falling out of trees and getting killed – repeatedly.

There are several things wrong with the scenario described by the blurb. In the story proper, Frank has no knowledge of magic at all, Jane is actually called Emily, and she is a low level pest exterminator rather than a high flying executive. She does fall out of a tree and die three times, but she also dies in many other interesting and bizarre ways as well. At one point she is dumped on the surface of the moon. She occupies the small amount of time available to her before her inevitable death by carefully examining the globe of the Earth above her head and utterly failing to find New Zealand on it.

The blurb is probably the most inaccurate I've ever read in my life. I suspect it is really there as a ploy to identify those reviewers who never actually read the book, and who base their entire review solely on the (mis)-information presented on the back cover of the book.

Fortunately I'm not one of those reviewers – I read and enjoyed every word of this rather insane novel, though I did find the utter absence of Jane from the story more than a little worrying. I looked for her on every page, and she wasn't there. Honest!

Frank Carpenter possesses a Portable Door. It's a thin sheet of plasticy stuff that he keeps rolled up in a small cardboard tube. When unrolled and attached to a convenient vertical surface, it turns into a door (with a nice brass knob) which can take the person who walks through it anywhere in space and time. Frank uses it to unsettle insurance claims – he works for Mr Sprague, an insurance company manager who hates paying out on claims. Whenever a large claim is due, Mr Sprague hires Frank to go back in time and make the event that caused the claim not happen. For this service, Frank receives ten percent of the money that Mr Sprague now doesn't have to pay out. Everybody is happy.

Emily (nee Jane) is a pest exterminator. She specialises in dragons, but she's a dab hand at giant spiders as well. The company she works for has her life insured for eleven million pounds. Consequently when she falls out of a tree and breaks her neck while trying to rescue a cat, Mr Sprague is not a happy man. He instructs Frank to make it not happen. Frank duly goes back in time and rescues Emily from certain death, only to have her break her neck twice more in futile attempts to rescue the damn cat again. He starts to see a worrying pattern. Somebody is determined that Emily will die…

Like all the very best time travel novels, The Better Mousetrap seems always to be in imminent danger of vanishing up its own paradoxes. The plot is about as convoluted as it can possibly be, and probably requires at least three new verb tenses in order to do it proper justice. But Tom Holt never loses control of it and eventually he ties up all the loose ends and resolves all the contradictory scenarios (including some that you would have sworn he'd not noticed). It's a masterful work, full of lovely jokes, enormous cynicism and brain twisting ideas. It made me laugh and it made me think. What more can anyone ask of a book? It's one of Tom Holt's very best novels.

I approached the end of the story in a high state of Jane anxiety and anticipation. Would Emily change her name by deed poll and then use the Portable Door to go back in time and re-write the book I'd just read, thus vindicating the author of the misleading blurb?

Well actually…


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