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A Dirty Job: A Novel

A Humorous Look at the Job of Being the Grim Reaper

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Death Just Becomes

  • Dec 17, 2011
Rating:
+3
Charlie Asher wants people dead. Or more accurately, he needs people dead. He's recently been recruited for the job of death merchant, which has him taking little personal tokens called soul vessels off the recently deceased and passing them on to their next soul.

In A Dirty Job, literary funnyman Christopher Moore takes on the themes of death and dying. Asher is his personal vessel for telling the story this time. At first read, there would apear to be a lot of chaos going on in A Dirty Job - he introduces Charlie, who is becoming what he calls a death merchant, raising his daughter Sophie, grieving over his wife Rachel who died in childbirth, avoiding detection at the hands of a police detective, avoiding a bunch of evil winged people whom Charlie calls sewer harpies, and running a store of secondhand merchandise. Ordinarily, this is a mighty lot which would flabbergast a lot of authors and create an incoherent, wandering book, but Christopher Moore actually manages to brew all of these plots and elements together and get them to work.

Christopher Moore, as a pure writer, isn't very good at all. Or if he is, he's toning down his talent to tell the stories he wants in the ways he wants. But something about his style just seems to say that in field marshalling so much, his lack of talent as a writer works to his advantage because he can effectively cut through the fat and tell the story in such a bare-boned fashion that he doesn't have to worry very much about his reputation as a prose artist. That has to be pretty liberating.

A Dirty Job begins with Charlie Asher in the hospital with his wife, Rachel, as they have their daughter, Sophie. Rachel dies because of complications during birth, but while in the hospital, Charlie sees a man dressed in all green who tells Charlie that Charlie isn't supposed to be able to see him. Weird things start happening. People begin dying all around Charlie, and an odd book about becoming Death shows up at the doorstep of his store. Charlie has been recruited to transfer souls from one person to the other by some supernatural force which Moore doesn't explain. But honestly, this book is so entertaining that I never cared that Moore never bothered to explain Charlie's recruitment. It was probably never meant to be explained.

When Charlie is introduced, he comes off as unlikeable and twitchy. He's paranoid about everything - he keeps asking the nurses to count the fingers and toes on Sophie to make sure they're all there. Moore makes it a point to emphasize the fact that Charlie is your prototypical beta male, and if there's one thing that feels totally out of place with the writing, the constant reminders of Charlie's beta male nature are it. But one of the more interesting parts of A Dirty Job turns out to be Charlie's evolution from reactionary beta male to someone more confident who is assertive and willing to do what it takes to get his soul vessels to their next owners.

Charlie is actually a rather impressive character. It's possible that the reason Moore never stops reminding us of Charlie's beta male nature is because through most of the book, with Charlie's situation getting increasingly weirder and weirder, he never actually loses his cool and goes crazy. He already has a set of circumstances that would break people, and he's thrown into another set of circumstances which would crack people and get them thrown into the local nuthouse.

Charlie is at his best when he is on the trail of a soul vessel or interacting with one of his two offbeat store employees, Ray Macy - who suspects Charlie of being a serial killer - and Lily, a goth who thinks it's cool that Charlie is a death merchant. Charlie's sister and her girlfriend seem to be contemptuous of him at times and occasionally don't try very hard to hide it. The interactions with Sophie can be a little long at times, and the scenes with the sewer harpies sometimes have a forced feel, even though they are clearly supposed to be in there.

To tell the story, Christopher Moore created an entire mythology surrounding death, death merchants, soul vessels, and the return of the real, actual Death, who is known as the Luminatus, the giant boss death with the proverbial black robe and scythe. The Luminatus is apparently supposed to preside over a giant battle between good and evil which takes place in the main hub of the death merchants, which for some reason is San Francisco. Unfortunately, one annoying thing about Charlie is that he soon jumps to the conclusion that he's the Luminatus because some hellhounds show up to act as guards for his daughter. I really don't see what evidence Charlie had to jump to this conclusion, but it fortunately doesn't become a large, burdening plot point.

A Dirty Job feels the way one of us might react upon the news the we might become one of the minions of the Grim Reaper. It's a very funny look at it too, and I sure many of us would react in many of the same ways as Charlie. It deals with a serious subject in a fun, warm-hearted way.

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More A Dirty Job: A Novel reviews
review by . June 29, 2010
Christopher Moore's story of a recently widowed man who learns he must become a soul gatherer (also known as one of the levels of being a grim reaper).  The novel is filled with creative characters, one of my favorites being a fellow grim reaper named Minty Fresh, and a series of plot turn that keep you turning the pages long after you should be in bed.       Moore has been my favorite contemporary author for over a year.  I started with Lamb, …
Quick Tip by . June 30, 2010
I love Christopher Moore's books. They are just hilarious and they make you feel good about your place in the world and that you don't have to deal with the supernatural on a regular basis.
review by . July 21, 2010
it is a brilliant author that can somehow spin a tale that combines death, humor, love, and battle with sewer harpies from the underworld into a book that you simply cannot put down.  there are elements that make you laugh out loud (to the chagrin of your coworkers) to moments which remind you of the truth that every moment in life should be savored like a piece of cheese -       the book is set in the city of san francisco, and has a slew of lovable characters that …
Quick Tip by . July 21, 2010
while i love all of christopher moore's books, this one and lamb are my favorites. they are absolutely hilarious, but definitely have some deeper elements that are worth exploring as well.
review by . May 13, 2009
I saw the in-store promotions for Christopher Moore's novel, You Suck, so many times, that I decided that I would read one of his earlier works to gauge my interest in him.      The novel I chose, A Dirty Job, wasn't one that I would normally pick up, as it is, I suppose, a "horror" novel. But not like one that I have ever read. The book opens with the death of the main characters wife, shortly after she gives birth to their daughter, Sophie. But as the woman expires, Charlie …
review by . February 23, 2009
I really enjoyed this farsical look at the job of collecting souls and the battle between good and evil. Charlie Asher obtains a "dirty job" when he sees a soul collector at the bedside of his wife shortly before she dies. Strange things start happening to Charlie such as people mysteriously dying around him and red-glowing objects that only Charlie is able to see. Then names and numbers start appearing on a datebook and Charlies hears wierd noises from the sewer.     Charlie …
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #17
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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