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Normally I'm so busy studying that to pick up a book when I finish feels like a busman's holiday; however, as I'm currently on something of a summer break, and didn't feel like doing any work without confirmation of funding for next year, I remembered a book I'd bought previously.
I bought Tom Holt's Faust Among Equals because I happened to see it for just £1 in Blackwells sale. (I notice they've since changed the cover, so perhaps this was clearing the last of old stock). I'd never read any of Holt's work before, but I knew my brother was something of a fan (having several books), and I'd heard him compared to Terry Pratchett, who I'm a big fan of, so I'd taken the chance to try it cheap.
As I said, I'd never read Holt before, but this is a standalone story, at least as far as it own work goes. I kind of goes with the Faustus stories of Goethe and Marlowe, but I haven't read them either - basic knowledge of someone selling his soul in a pact with the devil seems sufficient, although I may have missed a few clever references.
The story's set in something like the real world (and hell), sometime around the present day. The basic premise is that new management have taken over hell, and are turning it into a EuroDisney-style resort. However they hit a snag when one of their investments - 'Lucky' George Faustus (a soul, bought about 500 years ago) - escapes, just before an audit's due. Those in charge hire a bounty hunter with a score to settle, Kurt Lundqvist, to track him down.
There's not a great plot weaving its way through things, essentially it's more a combination of 'episodes' loosely forming one big chase. I found this with the humour too. I didn't think it was one big joke (like some of Pratchett's), more like an awful lot of one-liners and observations. They come thicker and faster than Pratchett (generally), and range from the absurd (what happens to the politicians) to bits I found hilarious (George's response to Helen's kidnap).
Despite the differences, I can see where the Pratchett comparisons come in. There's a similar wry observation on life. The very fact this is set around hell being run like a business and operating in the present day reminded me most of Pratchett's Good Omen (with Neil Gaiman), which is one of my favourite books.
I could be critical. Sometimes it seems this veers from one joke to another without much purpose, as if things are rather gratuitous. There's quite some reference to time travel, which isn't really explained, beyond some vague reference to George's magical powers and recycling the stuff. And I found the ending a bit open and unsatisfying. Maybe there were a few jigsaw pieces I didn't quite put together there, to work the whole thing out satisfactorily.
Nonetheless, I found it a pleasant read. Certainly I'd recommend it to other Pratchett fans looking to try something a bit different, or to anyone who likes the style of humour. It was an easy read - 300 pages in the space of a day - and drew several laugh out loud moments. For £1, I can't really complain about a day's entertainment.
I don't actually see new copies of this on Amazon - though it is available as part of a Tom Holt omnibus ('Dead Funny', including this and 'Flying Dutch'), or via the marketplace from just 1p used.