Christopher Moore, A Dirty Job, 2006.
When I pick up a book by Christopher Moore, I expect to be entertained, and, every other book*, stretched a bit. A Dirty Job does a decent job on both fronts. Its plot revolves around a man who becomes an agent of Death, and who becomes responsible to collect souls and facilitate their transference to their new people (it seems we outgrow and change souls as we ourselves develop, much as we do shoes; I’m not clear if we can wear them out). This being Moore, there’s wackiness &mdash some poignant, some farcical — as beta male Charlie Asher makes sense of his new vocation. He comes to it just after the death of his wife Rachel and the birth of his daughter Sophie. It’s a story populated with weird characters (and with strong links to some of Moore’s other books and characters, most notably an interaction that also appears in You Suck) and ferocious villains working against Charlie. Interwoven are thoughts and reflections on death, ranging from the Lovecraft-esque to a deep fascination with the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
It’s a set-up with promise that ultimately doesn’t live up to the depth of Lamb or the humour of Bloodsucking Fiends. My problem with the novel is that its plotting at some times clearly telegraphs revelations that need to be less-guess-able, and at other times resorts to such exotic (and small and furry) deus ex machinas as to so stretch the suspension of disbelief I was willing to extend to a book about a man who becomes a “death merchant.” There are some brilliant set pieces — both times Charlie is tied up are marvellous, as is the introduction of the hellhounds — but it doesn’t quite maintain the level of humour in the lighter books. It’s worth reading, and offers a noble paean to hospice care workers, but if you’ve read Lamb, you’ll be left wishing for a bit more after reading it. Memorable line: "I like my tea like I like my men [...] Weak and geen."
* I enjoyed listening to Moore speak with Edward Champion on this episode of The Bat Segundo Show. Its inside-baseball talk about what it is to be a popular-fiction writer is riveting and I encourage you to listen to it. In it, Moore reveals that he has made an interesting deal with his publisher: instead of writing a book a year, he’ll write four books in four years — two in six months and two in eighteen months. The result is some novels he considers lighter (You Suck is one example), and some that have the benefit of more thought and research (Lamb, A Dirty Job). It’s interesting to know about this calculated way of writing, and it doesn’t detract one iota from the six-month books.