A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore (book review).

June 24, 2020 | By | Reply More

While the idea of likeable personifications of death aren’t new, American author Christopher Moore has a knack of turning simple ideas into witting and sophisticated novels. ‘A Dirty Job’ takes place in the shared universe Moore has created in such comic novels as ‘Bloodsucking Fiends’ and ‘Bite Me’. As such, it’s our world, but with the supernatural bubbling underneath it, including demons, witches…and squirrels!

When his wife dies in hospital, after giving birth to their daughter, the protagonist, Charlie Asher, finds himself drafted into the ranks of the ‘death merchants’. These are effectively psychopomps, responsible for making sure that the souls of the dead are safely conveyed to their next incarnation, which it turns out is not something that can be taken for granted. Along the way, Asher learns about karma but, as he becomes more and more involved with the business of dying, a cop by the name of Rivera starts to suspect he’s some sort of serial killer. Needless to say, hilarity ensues or at least it should.

Opposing Asher and the other death merchants is the demon Orcus and his three wives known as the Morrigan, loosely based on the Irish goddesses of the same name. They’re stealing souls and, for some reason, are basing their operation in the financial district of San Francisco. Eventually, Asher confronts them, together with a variety of allies he collects along the way for a final showdown. There’s a certain deus ex machina ending but, if you’re literally dealing with a battle between supernatural powers, that does tend to come with the territory.

Besides being about death and how we balance it against the demands of life, Moore has also folded into the novel an exploration of what was, when the novel was written in 2006, the trendy idea of alpha males versus beta males. As Moore describes it, beta males anticipate danger and avoid problems, which translates into being good fathers if not very exciting protagonists. Moore, of course, uses this to make sure that Asher is discomfited by his new role and struggles to balance the demands his daughter, Sophie, places on him against the role of a death merchant. Helping him out is one Minty Fresh, a record store owner who also happens to be a death merchant and in fact the one Asher saw when his wife died. The fact Asher could see a death merchant at all was a sign that he was one of them.

While the novel itself is a perfectly pleasant read, it’s just not as funny as one of Moore’s other writings. The beta male thing is tiresome and, in conjuring up a world where psychopomps are real, his images just aren’t as witty as those of, say, Terry Pratchett. Indeed, the idea of souls being threatened by demons living in San Francisco was even done on ‘Charmed’ when one of the lead characters became a conveyor of souls nobody could see! Between the lack of originality and the lack of truly funny jokes, what’s left is something a bit too gentle, even a bit forced, to carry anything like the thoughtfulness Moore reached with ‘Lamb’.

Neale Monks

June 2020

(pub: Orbit, 2007. 437. page enlarged paperback. Price: £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-84149-603-0)

check out website: www.orbitbooks.net

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Category: Books, Scifi

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