The Better Mousetrap by Tom Holt.

Orbit classifies ‘The Better Mousetrap’ as comic fantasy and so it is, but fantasy set in a modern world circa 2008. The main differences are that magic is present and so are magical creatures but apart from that, everything else is pretty much the same. Unfortunately, for the poor devils, it seems that most magical creatures (dragons, trolls, giant spiders, werewolves, etc.) are classified as vermin. This has led to the rise of the pest control companies that specialise in magical vermin removal. Emily Spitzer is a rather good pest control officer working for Carrington’s, who becomes a bit of a problem for the hero of the novel, Frank Carpenter. You see she has a habit of dying and it’s Frank’s role, at least initially, to prevent her from being dead. It’s sort of a reverse insurance scam.


Things become interesting when Frank discovers that Emily is the victim of a Better Mousetrap. This is a magical device and something that is guaranteed to be fatal to the target. Frank, while unable to do magic, is equipped with a portable door that enables the user to travel from one place to another place and time. The important thing here is ‘another place and time’ making the user a time traveller. In the right hands, it’s an extremely powerful tool, which is just what’s required to deal with what’s being thrown at Emily. There are schemes within schemes here and it’s worth paying attention to the plot. This might be easier said than done, as this is a humorous tale, which at times made me laugh out loud. There are also some lovely quotes here that you’re going want to use or pass onto other people.

Carrington’s, Emily’s employers, are structured very much like a legal practice with junior partners, partners, senior partners and the top bod herself, Amelia Carrington. Having been in the legal trade himself, it’s something author Tom Holt knows well and it’s used to good comic effect. He captures and extrapolates the normal office rivalries and politics to new levels but perhaps the best bit is Emily’s new sidekick. There’s something not quite right about Erskin.

The only person lacking a special skill is our hero Frank Carpenter, who is quite good at maths though. He spends hours checking his calculations to make sure his intervention in events won’t end the world or worse. Apart from this, he has very few enduring qualities. The portable door is the only thing which gives him something to do in life while also allowing him to earn a decent wage.

I think ‘The Better Mousetrap’ is an excellent read and one that will make the reader hunt out more of Tom Holt’s books if they are new to the author as I was. This could be expensive as he’s written quite a few since giving up the legal profession. Still, I recommend this book as one of the best bits of comic fantasy I have come across.

Andy Whitaker

November 2013

(pub: Orbit. 345 page small hardback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-503-3
pub: Orbit. 345 page small hardback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-504-0)
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