May Contain Traces of Magic by Tom Holt tells the story of Chris Popham, travelling salesman for JW Wells & Co, purveyors of slightly dodgy magical products. He has been warned to never engage in conversation with his SatNav system, powered as it is by the soul of a extra-dimensional denizen doing hard time for unspecified crimes.
He talks to his SatNav. This tells you most of what you need to know about Chris Popham.
When Chris comes across the decapitated remains of one of his customers, clearly the subject of a demon attack, things start spiralling out of control.
May Contain Traces of Magic is set in the same world as some of Holt’s earlier novels based around the magic firm of J. W. Wells & Co (e.g. The Portable Door). Telling the story from the point of view of someone on the very periphery of the operation (Chris Popham, as a salesman, has no magic powers himself, he just sells the products) gives a different view of the world which I found interesting. Having said that, the novel is entirely self contained – you don’t have to have read any of the other books in the series to enjoy this one.
I find most of Holt’s novels are very amusing – not many laugh out loud moments, but clever, witty writing that is expressed very clearly. May Contain Traces of Magic is no exception, with the protagonist’s bumbling attempts to work out what is going on well portrayed throughout the book.
For all that the book is funny, it is not a light read. The plot is quite complicated, and keeping track of exactly who is doing what to whom at any given time is difficult. This complexity grows throughout the novel, with revelations that make you have to rethink the plot so far. I don’t mind the complexity, but you do have to stay focused.
The characters are well realised and developed considering the comedic nature of the novel. The novel is told almost exclusively from the point of view of the protagonist, so we only see the other characters through his eyes but there was a degree of sophistication in how facets of the secondary characters were revealed.
A complex, interesting read with lots of humour. Highly recommended.
I also reviewed this book on Goodreads. View all my reviews.
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