A DIRTY JOB
by Christopher Moore
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The idea of a human filling in for death is not new. In recent years, it has been mined by authors as diverse as Piers Anthony (Ride a Pale Horse) and Terry Pratchett (Mort). Humorist Christopher Moore jumps into the fray with A Dirty Job. As with the most successful of this type of story, Moore brings his own voice to the situation to create an interesting world and job for Charlie Asher, a second-hand store owner in San Francisco.
Despite much heavy material, including deaths of people close to Asher, from the earliest pages, Moore brings his own sense of humor to the novel. While in the past, he has been known to populate his stories with vicious demons and wise-cracking fruit bats, A Dirty Job gives the role of evil demon to Orcus and his minions, the Morrigan, and the fruit bat is replaced by anthropomorphic squirrels.
While all the supernatural entities offer opportunities for humor, the real humor comes in the situations and the interactions between the characters. Charlie's support group of people who know and don't know about his new "job" include his lesbian sister and his two employees, an ex-cop convinced Charlie is a serial killer and a high school truant who is upset because she's the one with a dark outlook on life, not Charlie.
Hidden beneath the rather thick veneer of humor, Moore's novel does look at attitudes of death as Charlie finds himself face to face with the death of strangers, acquaintances and people close to him. In the process Charlie finds himself coming to terms with death, and with being Death, in a manner which closely resembles the classic phases of mourning. As with Moore's earlier works, however, this serious side does not detract from the humor of his writing.
Unlike many humorous novels, it is clear from an early stage that not everything is going to end up cheerily. As a single father raising an infant daughter with an amazing predisposition towards pet deaths, Moore clearly sets his readers up to anticipate mortality in the book. Nevertheless, when it comes, and to whom, it comes in an unexpected manner with unexpected results.
A Dirty Job is a good novel to start with if you haven't read Christopher Moore's works before, although the same can be true of all of his novels. If you have managed to make his acquaintance through earlier works, A Dirty Job will offer more of what you have come to expect of his writing and you'll finish it with a desire for him to publish his next novel.
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