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A fleabag hotel in Liverpool provides the setting for one of the year’s most outrageously funny debuts. Night porters traditionally are used to all kinds of goings-on, but Ted Hamilton finds life at the Eagle Hotel more than he had bargained for. A quiet type given to books, he—d thought that the job would leave him plenty of peace and the leisure to thumb through his Herodotus in the wee hours of the morning. Big mistake. “First of all,” he discovers, “the guests in this place are not business people. . . . They wander in from twelve o’clock onwards, more often than not pissed, falling into each other’s arms, clutching at their down-below parts, ready for their lonely bit of action.” Naturally, his is the busiest shift of the day. Add to that a supercilious manager, Mr. Devlin (“When I look at the smile of one of our grateful customers—you know the look, don’t you?—I know we’ve met a market need”), and a psychotic porter, Harry Perkins (“Easy to see you’ve been sheltered from the real world of fucking war and politics”), and Ted quickly finds himself at wit’s end. He concocts a scheme involving a buxom West Indian cleaning lady, two adjoining rooms, and a phony police detective that quickly effects the dismissal of both Devlin and Perkins, but Devlin’s successor, Mr. Butterthwaite, is given to all manner of business strategy and work-usage forms and proves to be even more of a nightmare. On top of that, Ted begins receiving ominous letters that warn of impending race wars and threaten death to “white traitors” like himself. As he tries to identify his tormentor, Ted makes some interesting discoveries about his paternity, stumbles upon a white supremacy cult, witnesses the nervous breakdown of Mr. Butterthwaite, and helps set up a political-action conference at the Eagle—with more than disastrous results. Quick, deft, funny, and fresh, with some of the best dialogue and the best narration since Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 1998
ISBN: 1-899344-35-7
Page count: 184pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998