Tom Holt,
The Portable Door
(Orbit, 2003)

In Tom Holt's earliest novels, Expecting Someone Taller and Flying Dutch, he paid hilarious homage to Wagnerian operas. In The Portable Door he shifts the focus to Gilbert & Sullivan in a subtle and devious way. The main characters hate the duo's light operas though the music seems to be stalking them via television, books and pizza outings. The ensuing plot developments range from lively to ludicrous, but never disappoint.

The story begins with an innocuous job interview as the luckless and loveless Paul Carpenter anticipates rejection from both J.W. Wells & Co. and the strange, uncouth young woman he met in the waiting area. He lands the job as a junior clerk, sharing an office with Sophie, the angular silent woman he now inexplicably loves. Despite weeks of filing and stapling, neither of them have any idea what type of work the company performs until the night they overstay the required 5:45 departure time -- and meet the landlords, sharp-toothed and axe-wielding goblins.

With a bit of explanation about the nature of their new employment, Paul and Sophie find themselves caught by their contracts in an environment of mysterious bus rides to questionable magic shows, mercenary dragonslayers and recurrent claw marks. Knowing about J.W. Wells & Co. creates even more chaos, especially when Paul discovers the potential in what appears to be a novelty item, a portable door. Just slap it on the wall, turn the knob and spend your lunch hour by the Venice canals. His exploits are aggravated by his continued infatuation with Sophie, a collection of company board members with quirky characteristics and strange letters behind each of their names, and a female goblin with supermodel shapeshifting capabilities geared toward her romantic interest in a forlorn junior clerk.

Combined with a smattering of time travel, an intra-firm powerplay that puts new meaning into "power," a celebrity love potion conspiracy and a cameo by the erstwhile Kurt Lundqvist, this book provides action, romance and even a bit of inspirational light opera. Though the exposition builds more slowly than in most of Holt's funny fantasies, The Portable Door is a true page-turner as the corporate and romantic story lines cross and doublecross various thresholds. It even manages to take a few swipes at photocopiers and misplaced staplers around the office. Who wouldn't savor a bit of magical Gilbert & Sullivan after thinking about those?

- Rambles
written by Julie Bowerman
published 19 June 2004

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