I kind of liked Christopher Moore after reading Fool, but that’s saying I kind of liked pizza after eating a Totino’s. Fool’s not a good book, but it was my first exposure to a damn good, damn funny comic novelist, so what it gained for me in novelty was immediately lost in retrospect when I found something better. Better being A Dirty Job, which, if you ask someone their favorite Moore novel and they don’t say Lamb, they usually name this one.
Sell-out Fun Fact: I feel sorry for long-time fans of this author considering the new direction he’s taking. Moore appears to be embracing a completely different fan base: the readers who like his lousy vampire series. Seriously: Fucksox?
Charlie Asher, a San Francisco thrift store owner, thinks he’s Death. Or something close to it; ever since his wife died after giving birth to their baby Sophie, it seems random people around him are biting the dust, starting with a guy getting “creamed” by the number forty-one bus. He later learns via a mysterious gift called The Great Big Book of Death, he is what is known as a Death Merchant. When someone dies, his/her soul inhabits an object, like a CD or piece of jewelry, that was very dear to him/her in life. This object then needs to end up in the hands of its next owner who will then receive the soul. Death Merchants are the middlemen in this cycle, collecting the soul objects and keeping them safe until the buyer comes and unknowingly inherits the soul. Death Merchants can be anybody, including, say, a seven-foot-tall black man in a pastel green suit named Minty Fresh.
Charlie eventually accepts his new role, strolling the streets of San Francisco wearing dapper suits and carrying a sword cane, being exactly the kind of Death Merchant I would like to be. But under the streets lurk demons who seek to acquire the souls, which would give them the power to manifest above ground and sweep the world into darkness. And Sophie can apparently kill something by pointing at it and saying “Kitty.” Trouble is brewing.
What surprised me most about A Dirty Job wasn’t that it was heartfelt, but that the heartfelt sequences actually worked. Moore never seems satisfied just writing a silly book, and for better or worse he tries to construct touching moments within his batshit hurricane. I’ve wondered if there’s a serious literary novelist in Moore trying to get out, and only after reading A Dirty Job do I think there is. But this is a book that’s rooted in loss and grieving, not just regarding the deaths of those around Charlie, but Charlie of course, who is himself a widower struggling to let go of Rachel while his life goes bananas. To even attempt sincere sentimentality in the same book that has Frankenstein animals scurrying around in period costumes is… audacious. But Moore earns it.
I don’t have many complaints with this book besides it being a tad overlong, and that the soul object rules, which are supposedly Buddhist-based, aren’t terribly coherent. This dampens the tension as the story goes on: the demons are steadily gaining strength, but nobody ever knows what’s going wrong or who’s dropping the ball. The novel spends significant time hashing out rules that by and large don’t seem to matter.
Great Moore Lines With No Context Whatsoever
- “Mrs. Ling couldn’t help but do a quick appraisal of the monetary value of the slippery red dogwoods currently pummeling her landlord’s oxford-cloth shirt like piston-driven leviathan lipsticks.”
- “The image of a well-dressed older woman macking on a goopish spoonful of artificial boob spooge was running across the lobes of his brain like a stuttering nightmare.”
- “He checked the toast, not trusting the pop-up mechanism because the toaster people sometimes just liked to fuck with you.”
If you’re looking for a “funny” novel, I can’t point you to a better place. It’s packed with a smorgasbord of likable characters (the San Francisco setting enables Moore to believably assemble an absurdly diverse cast), and the jokes are consistently great.
Even the parts that “aren’t funny” are so thoughtfully written, you could imagine them in a decent literary novel about mourning. Yet these can be followed by a scene where the main character gets humped by two 400-pound hellhounds named Alvin and Mohammed, and it’s still okay.