Tom Holt,
Faust Among Equals
(Orbit, 1994)

I've been to Hell and back. It was a "damned good time" according to the t-shirts the new management team was wearing. Though they've rejected the name "Netherglades Theme Park," the new owners were making considerable changes aimed at improving the bottom line. ... That is, until the public relations nightmare of Lucky George Faust's escape from Hell gets everyone in a tizzy. It wouldn't have been such a big deal, but he was a "purchase" and the auditors didn't look favorably on misplaced property.

The bumbling new management team, a showdown between two rivals, and occasional bursts of Tom Clancy-ish technical jargon, places Tom Holt's Faust Among Equals among his fastest-paced and funniest novels.

The elusive George, who reunites with his patiently waiting love Helen O. Troy, doesn't intend to return to a life of torment since he's tasted the good life, and the sizable bounty on his head pits "The Most Wanted Man in History" against supernatural-beings bounty hunter Kurt Lundqvist. Kurt, a recurring figure in Holt's novels, is at his most mercenary here, with a score to settle and an inept teenage sidekick named Links as his only ally.

Of course, Lucky George has all of the luck, plus two talented seagulls and his University of Wittenberg classmates on his side. The latter allows for delightful cameo appearances by Hamlet, Leonardo Da Vinci, The Flying Dutchman, Martin Luther, Nick Machiavelli, Don Quixote, Hieronymus (Ronnie) Bosch and Chris Columbus. Who even knew these guys were funny?!

Holt's development of his supporting characters is certainly one of this book's strengths. Helen has a penchant for decorating that could foil even the most staunch kidnappers. (The whole wooden horse thing was a ruse.) The elite force of three Spectral Warriors even become endearing as they limp and lisp along on impossible missions to derail Lundqvist's quest. And zealous reporter Danny Bennett finally uncovers an actual conspiracy.

With a cast this large, it would seem difficult to keep the plot flowing, but Holt's clever writing and quick cuts among the scenes and players sizzle. From the demonic development of EuroBosch to the various century offices of the lawyer for all time to the steam-generated levitation of a country, Faust Among Equals careens from one ludicrous yet brilliant idea to the next, weaving a convoluted yet coherent story.

Faust Among Equals raises the intriguing question: "How much trouble can one get in if he's already condemned to everlasting damnation?" It's Tom Holt at his best!

[ by Julie Bowerman ]

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