The Better Mousetrap by Tom Holt
Paperback published by Orbit May 2009
Review by Bridie Roman *
Frank Carpenter was living a comparatively normal life before Emily Spitzer showed up. He worked for an insurance company, had a dog and a nice little house. Of course your life isn’t that normal when you own a portable door, a device that allows you to move through time and space so long as there is a flat surface at hand and your job is to use your portable door to stop large accidents that induce large insurance claims from happening. So when a firm claim twenty million after the death of an employee, Frank is of course called in to stop this disaster. Soon after saving Emily (several times) Frank’s life becomes a race against the bad guys to keep him and Emily safe and to keep his Portable Door his. Readers of Holt’s other novels will most likely enjoy the hints at previous tales, with the company JW Wells having a cameo appearance and Frank being the son of the infamous Paul and Sophie Carpenter.
I was however, a first time reader and whilst I appreciated Holt’s writing style, which I found to be in turns funny, fun and thoughtful, I also found the novel to be in places, boring, slow, and too complex.
When reading a comedic book I expect to be easily entertained, and in truth I was, until the final quarter of the book, in which the time travel aspect brought up a lot of moments where I had to stop, think about what was going on and then rethink it. Perhaps it’s just me but time travel is something that my brain definitely doesn’t like! This time travel complexity somewhat ruined the funny and fun aspect of the book as I was too busy thinking to appreciate most of the comedy. But yes, in short this is a funny book, if you are entertained by the thought of dragons with gambling addictions and witty phrases such as “Because everything takes time, even Time itself, there was a pause before nothing happened.” I myself was more entertained by Emily’s continual death from falling out of a tree despite Frank’s best efforts. Perhaps this is because I am a wicked person and prefer dark humour but I definitely laughed out loud at this point. Of course comedy is very subjective and whilst I can tell you this is a funny book I can’t promise that you yourself will find it funny, so it’s sort of a ‘go and try it out for yourself’ book.
The plot is definitely fun, a twist on the idea of a damsel in distress needing a knight in shining armour, including the traditional dragon. That is, of course, until the time travelling creates a lot of to-ing and fro-ing through time and space so that when the good guys triumph it turns out they haven’t, because the bad guys have gone back in time and so slows down the pace of the book. But this is definitely combated by the witty and loveable characters; Frank who desperately doesn’t want to fall in love (just look what it did to his parents!) and Emily who wishes she was somewhere close to 7 foot tall and more well muscled so her employers would respect her instead of questioning whether she can take on a dragon and saying ‘when we used to use JWW, the chap they sent was – well, taller, and…’. Their supporting cast of Dennis Tanner, who to some will be a familiar face, and his sexy mother (possibly a fictional “milf”) alongside the bad guys Amelia Carrington (biggest fictional corporate bitch) and Colin Gomez (lackey and henchman, not really evil but willing to follow orders).
Having not read a lot of urban fantasy I found the idea of dragons in bank vaults and a troll as the MD of a company to be very amusing. This genre is definitely something for me to explore later but it does make my heart ache that our world is so boring and there isn’t much mystery left in it.
In all this is a good book, not brilliant but certainly entertaining. My biggest complaint is that the blurb is completely misleading, saying that Frank is the foremost magical practitioner of our age, when really he’s pretty average and that it is “Jane” who repeatedly falls out of a tree. Really, who writes these things?!?
Review by Bridie Roman, June 2009
*Bridie Roman is the latest recruit to the SFFWorld reviewing team, and proud to be so. She is coming up for 17 and lives in the