You Don’t Have To Be Evil To Work Here, But It Helps/Someone Like Me (books, 2006, Tom Holt)

From SFX 142.

You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here, But it Helps


You don’t have to be a Tom Holt fan to enjoy this, but it helps

Someone Like Me


Adult education with bite.

There are four good genre humorists writing novels in the UK, Holt is one of them. He’s less wacky than Rankin, more homespun than Grant, and less fantasy than Pratchett. That’s Tom Holt.

You Don’t Have To Be… is a very Tom Holt Tom Holt. He likes to play around with mythological themes in a contemporary setting, in this case it is Christian-flavoured occult. As in other of his books, the main dude Colin is a no-hoper, a feckless bugger trapped by a personal inertia field into working in the mind-numbing family widget-making firm. And there it looks like he may stay for an eternity, until his life is derailed by his father trading his soul to stop his company going under.

We have the usual Holt inventiveness – the soul-selling is facilitated by a secret corporation of sorcerors, with whom much of the book is concerned; and some memorable characters – notably Oscar the demon, who Holt manages to make unnerving, funny, and sympathetic; no mean feat.

But wait! Holt’s weaknesses are much in evidence here. The book takes ages to get going, so much so that you might be tempted to put it down. He has an annoying tendency to rely on reverse dramatic irony, like, by concealing the true business of JW Wells and Co by having the employees talk about mergers for 20 pages. Of course, this doesn’t matter does it? We are reading a Tom Holt book, so we KNOW that they are not that mundane at all, eh? Actually, no, 20 pages of people talking about mergers is dull, no matter how cleverly parodied.

Too many adjectives, too many clever-clever analogies too early on also trip up the tale and put the stranglers on the fun factor. But none of these niggles do any justice to the story when it (finally) picks up, nor the deft manner in which Holt weaves Colin’s cosmically troubled love life round the crisis at the family firm. Buy, read, stick with it, and enjoy.

Someone Like Me is a different kettle full of different fish. Written as part of an initiative to get more people reading (particularly those who have difficulty with the task), it is a sharp post-apocalyptic tale where the Earth has been overrun by man-eating creatures. Its brevity and clever use of uncomplicated language shows that writers can shine when writing to a tough brief. It is an effort to be applauded – and read, for it is a great short.

 Did you know?

Tom Holt is a big genre fan – jokes about Nazgûl, Romulan cloaking devices, Mr Spock and Captain Kirk all feature in You Don’t Have To Be... You big nerd! Ahem. Just kidding.


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