By Tom Holt

Formats and Prices




Trade Paperback


Trade Paperback $13.99

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around May 20, 2004. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

As everyone knows, when great warriors die their reward is eternal life in Odin’s great hall – otherwise known as Valhalla.

But Valhalla has changed. It’s grown. It’s diversified. Just like any corporation, the Valhalla Group has had to adapt to survive.

Unfortunately, nothing could have prepared it for the arrival of Carol Kortright, one-time cocktail waitress, currently dead, and not at all happy.

Sparkling comic fantasy from one of Britain’s sharpest, funniest writers.

More information on this book and others can be found on the Orbit web-site at


Tom Holt was born in London in 1961. At Oxford he studied bar billiards, ancient Greek agriculture and the care and feeding of small, temperamental Japanese motorcycle engines; interests which led him, perhaps inevitably, to qualify as a solicitor and emigrate to Somerset, where he specialised in death and taxes for seven years before going straight in 1995. Now a full-time writer, he lives in Chard, Somerset, with his wife, one daughter and the unmistakable scent of blood, wafting in on the breeze from the local meat-packing plant.

By Tom Holt
Expecting Someone Taller
Who’s Afraid of Beowulf?
Flying Dutch
Ye Gods!
Here Comes the Sun
Faust Among Equals
Odds and Gods
Djinn Rummy
My Hero
Paint Your Dragon
Open Sesame
Wish You Were Here
Only Human
Snow White and the Seven Samurai
Nothing But Blue Skies
Falling Sideways
Little People
The Portable Door
In Your Dreams
Earth, Air, Fire and Custard
You Don’t Have to be Evil to Work Here, But It Helps
Someone Like Me
The Better Mousetrap
May Contain Traces of Magic
Dead Funny: Omnibus 1
Mightier Than the Sword: Omnibus 2
The Divine Comedies: Omnibus 3
For Two Nights Only: Omnibus 4
Tall Stories: Omnibus 5
Saints and Sinners: Omnibus 6
Fishy Wishes: Omnibus 7
The Walled Orchard
Alexander at the World’s End
A Song for Nero
I, Margaret
Lucia Triumphant
Lucia in Wartime

Hachette Digital

Published by Hachette Digital 2009
Copyright © 2000 by Tom Holt
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means,
without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor
be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other
than that in which it is published and without a similar
condition including this condition being imposed on the
subsequent purchaser.
All characters and events in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book
is available from the British Library.
eISBN : 978 0 7481 1379 8
This ebook produced by JOUVE, FRANCE
Hachette Digital
An imprint of
Little, Brown Book Group
100 Victoria Embankment
London EC4Y 0DY
An Hachette UK Company

For Mary Q and the Brain in Aspic:
gallant Knights of the Salamander,
churchwardens of the last, best Valhalla;
and for Fang the Dog, as always.

‘Oh look,’observed Napoleon. ‘There’s a speck of dust.’ Because of the marvellous acoustics in the vast, crowded amphitheatre, his muttered observation rolled through the rows of seats and out across the stage like summer thunder. Nobody moved or spoke for a very long time.
‘Coo,’ said Genghis Khan eventually. ‘So there is.’
A week passed uneventfully. Far away, above, outside, the latest minor war sputtered ambitiously as it swept through a medium-sized town (Hundreds feared dead, the newspaper men typed, big soppy grins on their faces) and drops of blood froze as they sank into the snow. But this was a better place, a peaceful place. No war here.
‘Are you sure it’s a speck of dust?’ quavered a frail little voice somewhere near the back.
‘Shut up, Attila, I’m trying to concentrate.’
In the middle of the stage stood The Wall: a plain brick wall some seventeen feet high, painted white. From the far end of the auditorium it looked so tiny that the men squashed together on the back row had to use massively powerful binoculars to see it at all.
‘That’s not a speck of dust,’ said Frederick the Great, adjusting the eyepieces. ‘That’s a gnat.’
‘Rubbish,’ replied Ulysses S. Grant, a thousand rows further down. ‘That’s dust, I’m telling ya.’
‘You reckon?’
Two more weeks passed. The latest minor war fizzled out into wussy peace talks, and at the back of the auditorium a door opened and the usher discreetly escorted a few new arrivals to their seats.
‘Welcome,’ he whispered.
‘Thank you,’ replied one of the new arrivals. ‘Um, where is this?’
The usher smiled pleasantly. ‘Valhalla,’ he said.
The new arrivals sat down, and the usher issued each of them with a warm rug, a thermos flask and a pair of incredibly sophisticated binoculars. ‘Enjoy,’ he added, and withdrew.
A month slipped by; after which, one of the newbies managed to summon up enough courage to tap his neighbour gently on the sleeve.
‘Excuse me.’
‘Piss off, I’m trying to concentrate.’
A fortnight later, he tried again. ‘Sorry to bother you,’ he said, ‘but—’
Now what?’
The newbie took a deep breath. ‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘but what are you all looking at?’
‘The Wall, of course,’ replied the old hand, tucking the rug closer around his knees. ‘Now keep quiet, for God’s sake. We’re just getting to the interesting bit.’
‘Ah,’ said the newbie; and for the next ten days he stared hard at the Wall through his state-of-the-art Zeiss lenses. The newbie was an intelligent man, and observant - well, you didn’t get to be second-in-command of the entire Air Force without being pretty damn observant. ‘I don’t get it,’ he whispered.
‘Christ,’ hissed his neighbour angrily (and thanks to the excellent acoustics, he shared the remark with the whole audience). ‘Don’t you ever stop talking?’
The newbie was a master tactician. ‘I’ll gladly shut up,’ he replied, ‘if you tell me what you’re all staring at.’
The old hand sighed. ‘The paint, of course.’
‘The paint?’
‘On the wall.’
Far away, above, outside, another minor war cautiously nuzzled its way into the world, like a snowdrop blossoming. ‘But that’s crazy,’ muttered the newbie. ‘Watching paint dry: what kind of eternal reward is that for a lifetime of service and a glorious death in battle?’
‘Reward?’ The old hand looked at him oddly. ‘You fool, this is Valhalla.’
‘Val-halla,’ Carol repeated, rolling the syllables round her tongue and savouring them. ‘Sounds cool.’
Her friend gave her a contemptuous look. ‘Cool,’ she repeated. ‘A great big place full of dead guys fighting. Sounds to me like somebody needs to get a life real bad.’
The young man propped his elbows on the bar and shrugged. ‘You’re entitled to your opinion,’ he said. ‘All I’m saying is, that was how they saw it. They liked fighting and killing. Their motto was, who needs to get a life when you can take one instead?’
The girl dried a glass thoughtfully. ‘Tell me more about the - what did you say they were called? Valkyries?’
The young man nodded. ‘Literally translated,’ he said, licking beer-froth out of his moustache, ‘it means choosers of the slain. Like, they got to decide who was worthy of going to Odin and who wasn’t.’
‘That’s what they did?’
‘You bet,’ said the young man. ‘And then they escorted the souls of the heroes to Valhalla, where they brought them these huge jugs of ale and stuff.’
‘Driving cabs and clearing up after dead guys,’ sniffed the cynical friend. ‘It gets better. In my neighbourhood, most of that Valkyrie stuff gets done by Puerto Ricans.’
‘Ignore her,’ said the girl. ‘I think it sounds—’ She paused, searching for the right word. ‘Glorious,’ she decided. ‘It sounds glorious.’
The young man finished his beer. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I gotta go. It was real nice meeting you.’
‘You’re leaving?’ the girl said.
The young man left; and not long after that the bar closed and it was time for her to go home. Choosers of the slain, she thought, as she unlocked the massively secured door of her apartment. That’s got a ring to it. That’s what I call a job description.
She played back her messages - boring, dull, mundane, obscene phone call, boring - got undressed, climbed into bed and clicked off the light. In the darkness, the image lingered: a high, vast roof of massive beams dimly visible through the smoke of a great orange fire glowing in a long hearth that ran the whole length of the enormous, crowded hall, with tables and benches crammed with bearded warriors on either side; at one end, a raised dais, a high table in the shadows where a looming presence sits and watches; noise and thundering laughter, wooden platters and horn mugs banged on the tabletop, not quite drowning out the strange, compelling music of the old blind harper in the far corner—
( Jesus! I don’t know spit about Viking interior design. Where in my mind is all this weird stuff coming from? Or did I die in my sleep and get sent to California?)
She woke up, her eyes open, and listened: nothing, except (far away, below, outside) the blaring of car horns, a few shouts - angry, confused, drunk, stoned - two people having a loud argument in one of the apartments down the hall, distant synthetic music. Must’ve seen it on TV or some movie, she rationalised sleepily. Wasn’t there that thing with Kirk Douglas and Tony Curtis? She lay back and listened to the noises, strangely comforting in their familiarity. They lulled her to sleep like the babble of a mountain brook or the patter of spring rain on thatch. —Back to the smoky, echoing hall, where she slammed down a froth-slopping mug of ale in front of a huge man who looked like he was drowning in his own beard. She barked out, ‘Okay, what’ll it be?’
The bearded man looked at the slab of rune-inscribed wood in his hands. ‘May I to be having the double roast ox on rye?’ he said. ‘Extra onions. However, please to hold the olive.’
Out of nowhere, a heavily laden platter appeared in her right hand. (Of course: all the food and drink are magic here.) She put it down on the table, skilfully avoided an enormous wandering hand, muttered ‘Have a nice day,’ and hobbled - goddamn uncomfortable high-heeled boots - down the line of benches to fill another order. Her armour (why was she wearing armour?) was hot and slimy with ambient cooking grease. She could feel things snooping about in her hair. Another wandering paw probed her defences and this time managed to slip past; she cracked it across the knuckles with the edge of her tray.
You don’t have to be dead to work here, but it helps.
‘Of course,’ laughed a flaxen-bearded, red-nosed giant, grabbing her wrist and pulling her toward him. ‘Valholl.’
She was too startled to do anything except stare at him. ‘Excuse me?’ she said.
‘Valholl. Val-hall-a.’ He grinned, revealing a mouthful of yellow stumps that would have revolted one of those small birds who live by picking rotting meat out from between the teeth of crocodiles. ‘Hadn’t you for yourself it been working out? This the afterlife not for dead heroes is. This the afterlife for uppity cocktail waitresses.’
And then, of course, she woke up. As her eyes opened, she could feel relief flooding through her - for a brief, terrifying moment she’d actually believed that she’d died and ended up in that ghastly, horrific place. The light filled her eyes, warm and mellow. She yawned gratefully, stretched out her arms, and felt something.
A beard.
Eeek, she thought; and then, It must have been a better night than I thought I remembered. She blinked through the yellow dazzle of sunlight and propped herself up on one elbow.
Beside her in the bed - you could just about call a pile of mangy furs and smelly blankets a bed - was a large, naked, sleeping, unhygienic-looking Norseman.
Oh shit, she thought. Valhalla.
All the comforts, all the excitement, all the fun: everything the original had, in fact, except the need to die first.
That, at least, was the theory.
At the end of the table there was a crash, and someone swore. Howard leaned forward enough to be able to see round Veronica’s knee-thick elbow and quickly identified the source of the disturbance. Dennis had tried to get up from the table, forgotten that he was still wearing his chain mail, been pulled off balance by the weight, and fallen over. He was now lying on his back like a silver beetle, waving his arms and legs in the air in a futile attempt to get up again.
It can’t have been like this, Howard thought. For all that our props and costumes and armour are near-as-dammit authentic, we must be missing something. People back then didn’t just fall over, surely? Someone - Chaucer, or a saga-writer or somebody - would have mentioned it.
‘Help him up, someone, for pity’s sake,’ Veronica sighed. ‘Just lying there, he’s making the place look untidy.’
‘Nah,’ replied Fat Tony, his mouth full of spit-roast Sainsbury’s ox. ‘Falling over and writhing about in the straw is period. Definitely period. He should be drunk, of course, or dying of ergotism, but the effect’s the same. Leave him be.’
The helping hands that had been reaching out to the fallen man quickly withdrew. Fat Tony was the duly elected Authenticity Cop for the War-Band of Sigurd Bloodtooth (Smethwick chapter) and on matters of what was and wasn’t in period, his word was law. Why this should be, nobody was quite sure. Fat Tony was no historian: he’d joined the War-Band so as to be able to bash people with bits of metal without being arrested. Maybe it was because Fat Tony was big, and tended to find expression for his magnitude in belting people who disagreed with him. God, yes; there had been the time when the visiting British Museum lecturer had pointed out to Fat Tony that an outfit consisting of a home-spun cloak, baggy cross-gartered trousers, woollen tunic, stainless-steel mailshirt and Reeboks contained at least one gross anachronism. Afterwards, when the lecturer was fit enough to be discharged, they’d had to take him from the hospital to the station in a wheelbarrow.
‘More ale!’ someone thundered up at the top end of the table. ‘Ale! Ale!’
‘All right, hold your water,’ a female voice replied. ‘I’ll be with you in a jiff.’
Or maybe, Howard reflected, shoving a chunk of utterly authentic pork fat on to the edge of his trencher, maybe this is exactly how it was, and the only misapprehension is on the part of those who equate Valhalla with Heaven. For all he knew, the Norse afterlife for people who didn’t come to a bad end after a lifetime of killing and bullying was really rather pleasant: quiet and peaceful in a Laura Ashley sort of way, with books and bone china teacups and asparagus quiche and big handmade teddy bears . . .
‘Pass the mustard.’
Howard clicked out of his daydream and shoved the mustard pot down the table. Mustard wasn’t period, but Fat Tony wouldn’t eat boiled pork without it, so the Colmans pot was hidden inside an utterly authentic Norse drinking vessel, made out of what Howard devoutly hoped was a synthetic skull provided by Roddy the medical student. You lifted back the top jaw to reveal the mustard. The spoon stuck out through the left eye socket.
Having rejected the rest of his allocation of boiled pork, Howard poked about on his plate for something to eat. The only thing he recognised after a thorough excavation was a leek, and he spent a frustrating minute or so trying to find some way of transferring this to his face using only the permitted period utensil, a whacking great knife that looked like the sort of thing Captain Ahab would have used for cutting up whales. One of these days, he knew, he was going to slit open his own tongue like an envelope with the bloody thing. Whether that was likely to be worse than Fat Tony’s ordained punishment for eating with a fork during a banquet (‘Gosh,’ someone had said when he’d first announced it. ‘But are you sure it’d fit in there?’) he wasn’t sure and certainly didn’t want to find out.
‘You look miserable,’ said the man next to him. Howard moved his head forty degrees to the right and caught a glimpse of Martin the mortgage adviser in the narrow interstice between helmet and beard. ‘Have some more ale, cheer yourself up.’
Howard sighed impatiently. ‘It’s not ale,’ he said. ‘It’s Tesco’s own-brand lager. Not,’ he added quickly, ‘that I mind. Not in the least. It may not be authentic but at least it hasn’t got plankton living in it, like it would have done back then.’
‘Please yourself,’ Martin replied cheerfully, sloshing yellow fizz into his horn mug. ‘Nikki’s driving, so I’m all right.’
Now that’s the Society all over, Howard reflected. Killing, maiming, plundering, carousing and ravishing non-stop from half-past seven Friday night till teatime Sunday, but none of them would ever dream of breaking the law. That’s what makes it all a farce, not because someone shows up with a zip fly or a cloak the wrong shade of indigo. Modern people in primitive clothes are just modern people who look silly. He’d joined the Society because he hated being modern, because he was painfully and perpetually aware that he’d been born out of his time—
‘’Scuse me,’ someone a bit further down the table said. ‘Oh God, did it land in your lap?’
‘Christ. Sorry. Look, it will come out. Most of it.’
—not because he was a slob or a nutcase who believed that it was all right to behave like a wild animal and blame it on History. Even in the real Valhalla, surely, people didn’t go around doing - that - and then carry on blithely stuffing and swilling as if nothing had happened. It was wrong and unfair to assume that people in history were like that; on a par with saying that people who live in council houses wash their socks in the bog and pee in the sink.
‘You’re right,’ said the bloke on his left. ‘It wasn’t quite like this. For one thing, the wall hangings are the wrong colour.’
‘Of course this isn’t like the genuine Valhalla. For one thing, Valhalla wasn’t a galvanised steel barn seventy-five yards from the northbound carriageway of the M5. For another thing,’ Howard added with a slight scowl, ‘there was no real Valhalla. Even the real Valhalla wasn’t real.’
The bloke on the left - Howard couldn’t remember having seen him before - shook his head. ‘You reckon,’ he said.
Howard nodded. ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I do. Likewise, I don’t hang up a stocking for Santa any more, and I don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy. I’ve even heard a rumour that it isn’t really the stork who brings babies.’
‘So my son assures me,’ the stranger replied, ‘though I prefer to keep an open mind on the issue. True, it doesn’t bring babies round where I live, but maybe that’s because it’s got enough sense to realise that if it landed for more than half a second, some bugger would steal its wing-feathers. Don’t you want that bit of pork fat? No? Mind if I—?’
‘Go ahead,’ Howard replied. ‘You aren’t from round here, then?’
The stranger dipped his head by way of confirmation. ‘Just passing through,’ he said. ‘On business, you know.’
‘Ah,’ Howard said. Then, to make conversation, he added, ‘What line of work are you in, then?’
‘Personnel,’ the stranger replied. ‘Executive recruitment. I’m what they call a headhunter.’
‘Right.’ There was something in the way he’d said headhunter that Howard didn’t like. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it, except that it brought to his mind a mental image of a violin-maker rattling a spoon against a saucer and calling out ‘Here, kitty, kitty!’ He impaled another short section of leek, but it toppled off the point of his dagger and landed in his lap. ‘Must be an interesting job,’ he added.
The stranger shrugged his unusually broad shoulders. ‘Not really,’ he said. ‘I mean, a job’s always a job, whether you’re a shelf-stacker in the Co-Op or a Hollywood director; it still comes down to rolling out of bed on a cold winter morning and knowing your day’s not your own. That said, I’d rather do my job than most others.’
‘Good money?’ Howard ventured, wondering why he was bothering with this conversation. ‘Promising career structure? Opportunities for travel?’
‘Perks,’ the stranger replied. ‘Well, perk singular. But one hell of a big one.’
The man grinned. ‘Oh yes. You don’t believe me, do you?’
Howard shook his head. ‘Not at all,’ he said. ‘Truth is, I don’t know the first thing about head—about executive recruitment. Obviously you do, so I’m happy to take your word for it.’
‘Listen,’ the man said, ‘never take anyone’s word for anything. Golden rule of life, that is. No, I’ve made a pretty sweeping claim, so let me prove it to you.’
‘Oh,’ Howard said. ‘Well, all right, then.’
‘Good. Now, watch carefully.’
So saying, the stranger took the large, sharp knife out of Howard’s hand and drew it across his own jugular vein with a swift, firm movement. Then, quickly, he clamped his own hand across the cut. Howard stared in horror; he could see little beads of blood welling out from between the man’s clasped fingers.
The man was counting.
‘Five,’ he said. ‘Six.’ He removed his hand, revealing a deep gash and a thick slush of blood that appeared to be trickling upwards, back into the wound. ‘Had to put my hand there,’ he explained, ‘else there’d have been a spurt of blood like a burst water-main. You’d have been soaked to the skin, and I’d never have got it all back in again. Now, do you agree that’s one hell of a perk?’
The thin smear of blood that had been messing up the blade of Howard’s dagger turned to a fine mist and sprayed itself neatly into the rapidly closing wound. The stranger leaned forward and used the knife to spear another gobbet of pork fat. ‘And the money’s not bad,’ he went on, ‘not marvellous but not bad. Only,’ he added, ‘there’s nowhere to spend it except in the Company shop. No, the immortality’s got to be the main thing about this business. Once you’ve got eternal life, everything else just sort of gets left behind; you grow out of caring about anything else, like kids grow out of playing at being soldiers.’
He handed the knife back to Howard, who took it point first. ‘Eeek,’ he exclaimed and came within an inch of dropping it on his toe.
‘Anyway,’ the stranger said, his mouth full of pork fat. ‘Now then, is that proof or would you rather I took off something bigger - let me see, bigger, bigger. Well now, what about my head? Might be a bit messy, but I defy you to stay sceptical. ’
For God’s sake,’ Howard hissed. ‘Look, who are you? CIA?’
The stranger frowned. ‘Isn’t that the big chain store where you buy those rather old-fashioned shirts?’ he said. ‘If it is, I’m insulted. Do I look like I stand behind a till all day?’
‘Please,’ Howard groaned, quickly sneaking a look to see if anybody else was watching. ‘I believe you, really I do. I’ll believe anything; just stop cutting yourself up like a self-propelled bacon-slicer.’


  • Rewriting the classic gods for comic effect is a Tom Holt speciality, and Valhalla returns to Odin the Skyfather, much mistreated in Holt's first funny fantasy Expecting Someone Taller 1987). Valhalla is the afterlife where warriors forever feast, get drunk, laugh at each other and are reborn the next day--the Viking idea of fun. But Odin, a devious bastard, has made changes ... For Howard the pretend Viking, who joined the War-Band of Sigurd Bloodtooth (Smethwick chapter) in hope of pulling girls, Valhalla is a gory shoot-up with modern weapons. For older killers like Attila, Napoleon and Hitler it's like the thrilling suspense of watching paint dry. For Lin Kortright, theatrical agent to the gods, it's endless gruelling auditions for the part of Lin Kortright--every time, he "dies" on stage. Carol the cocktail waitress lands in a similar dead-end job as a serving wench in the traditional Valhalla, where there's a special briefing for Americans:—Skyfather, his message: You in Kansas any more are not.
  • Indeed Odin gives everyone personalised Valhallas that nastily twist their own wish-fulfilment dreams. Clever one-liners and bizarre ideas come thick and fast as ever--few people suspected that the "voices" heard by Joan of Arc included police radios and—David Langford, AMAZON.CO.UK

On Sale
May 20, 2004
Page Count
288 pages

Tom Holt

About the Author

Tom Holt was born in London in 1961. At Oxford he studied bar billiards, ancient Greek agriculture and the care and feeding of small, temperamental Japanese motorcycle engines interests which led him, perhaps inevitably, to qualify as a solicitor and emigrate to Somerset, where he specialized in death and taxes for seven years before going straight in 1995. He lives in Chard, Somerset, with his wife and daughter.

Learn more about this author