The Portable Door by Tom Holt

I seem to have the habit of buying books when they’re cheap and then storing them, unread, on a shelf gathering dust. One of these books is The Portable Door by Tom Holt.

Tom is one of those authors that I’ve been meaning to try out for years. I love Terry Pratchett‘s stuff and I figured that Tom Holt would have a similar style. I was wrong about the style, although both write humorous fantasy novels, but I thoroughly enjoyed the novel nonetheless.

The Portable Door introduces us to Holt’s inept hero Paul Carpenter.  Paul isn’t really very good at anything, not even nomination whist. He has few friends and no job and applies for a post at JW Wells where he meets a Thin Girl called Sophie, who has plenty of her own problems. Neither of them know very much about the company and both are surprised to be recruited.

Initially they’re set to work sorting out spreadsheets into date order. Oddly enough this is very similar to my very first proper job. I worked for a credit company called Club 24 and my job was to sort out credit applications into numerical order. It was tedious work and this is how Paul and Sophie find their new job.

The thing is, neither of them have the gumption to ask what these sheets are for, or even ask what JW Wells do. In time Paul finds that he has the knack for finding bauxite deposits in the Australian desert and that he’s fallen hopelessly in love with the sullen, skinny girl he works with.

All sorts of bizarre incidents start happening. Why is there a new receptionist every morning and how did this large piece of sword-embedded stone end up in Paul’s bedsit? What are all these strange items in the store-room and why does the stapler keep appearing in all sorts of strange places?

Tom Holt writes with a very dry wit. I found myself chuckling all the way through the book even though I had know idea where the plot was taking me for at least the first 200 pages but there’s plenty of interest injected into Paul and Sophie’s initially mundane existence. It’s not even remotely Pratchett-esq but it is very funny in parts.

We’re gradually introduced to more and more weird goings-on that reveal the nature of JW Wells business. You’re not really given much idea about what the whole point of the book is until near the end but it’s all held together beautifully and the ending is very satisfactory, with more Paul Carpenter-related books to come.

It didn’t really keep me gripped but it was a very entertaining read. Tom Holt has plenty of ideas and most of them work wonderfully well but you do start to think that the book is meandering around a bit too much in the early stages. However, the constant gags and hilarious similes kept my interest going all the way through the 400 or so pages.

Well worth seeking out, even if you’re not a fantasy reader.

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