by Christopher Moore
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The release of a new Christopher Moore novel is always cause for celebration, even moreso when the novel, such as Secondhand Soulsis a sequel to a previous book, since it gives the reader an excellent excuse to go back and re-read (or read for the first time), the earlier book, in this case A Dirty Job. Secondhand Souls picks up the action a year after the end of A Dirty Job, with Sophie being raised by her aunts Jane and Cassie, Charlie still in the body of a fourteen-inch tall mannequin, and Lily working at a Crisis hotline after the jazz-pizza restaurant she opened with Minty Fresh went belly up.
While the defeat of the Morrigan and Orcus in the previous book would seem to spell a period of quiet for San Francisco, the Death Merchants killed in the earlier skirmish haven’t been fully replaced and the souls of the dying have been allowed to pile up. With the Emperor of San Francisco compiling a list of the forgotten dead, a Mike Connor, a painter on the Golden Gate Bridge, begins to see the souls of those who have been abandoned in their weird limbo, and he reaches out to Lily’s hotline, beginning the second round of battle between Charlie’s band warriors and the forces of death, now led by the death deity Yama.
As with so many of Moore’s novels, the humor in Secondhand Souls derives from the relationships between the characters and their own quirky points of view. With a sequel, Moore has already established many of these relationships, but now he’s able to expand upon them. In the previous novel, Audrey and Charlie had barely met when Charlie found himself in the body of one of the “Squirrel people.” Now, Moore can explore how that impacts (negatively) their relationship and, once Charlie is returned to human form, he can discover so much about his previous life that he didn’t know watching how his humonculous, now known as Wiggly Charlie, is treated.
There are parts of Secondhands Souls that don’t completely work. Inspector Rivera, previously seen in A Dirty Job and the vampire trilogy has retired from the force after everything he has seen and has opened up a used bookstore, the better to serve in his new capacity as a Death Merchant. Unfortunately, Rivera is even less diligent at his new calling than Charlie was before he managed to get the Big Book of Death away from Lily. Although Rivera is now a more engrained part of Charlie’s cadre, he is still, at heart, a police inspector and Moore never quite figures out how to handle him outside that role.
All of the elements which made A Dirty Job a fun and intelligent novel recur in Secondhand Souls, but Moore can include Charlie and Audrey’s (often strange) relationship throughout the entire novel. Furthermore, Yama is a much more intriguing and complex character than Orcus was in the previous book. While Orcus ruled over, yet took a back seat to, the Morrigan, in Secondhand Souls, Yama has his own agenda and his own ties to the overall situation. Finally, Lily is perfect in the role of a crisis hotline call handler, perhaps the only character Moore had created who would fit the job as well is Lily’s friend Abby Normal.
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