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A Dirty Job

by Christopher Moore

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


A Dirty Job
You take a wrong corner. You step off that curb without looking. Death comes for us all, taking a myriad number of terrible and terrifying forms.

Unless, of course, you're the hero of Christopher Moore's latest comedy opus, A Dirty Job. Then death comes in the form of a tall, black record store owner named Minty Fresh, who steals your wife's soul, confers upon you the job of Death Merchant, and leaves you and your newly born daughter to fend for yourselves among hellhounds, sewer harpies and an army composed mostly of reanimated squirrels. Chaos ensues. As per usual.

It's not as outlandish as it sounds and in fact A Dirty Job has more in common with Bloodsucking Fiends, Moore's hilarious but oddly touching vampire romance set in San Francisco, than it does with the more oddball antics of Fluke. Also set in San Francisco, it's a great portrait of the city as well as Charlie Asher, a self-effacing "Beta Male."

The Beta Male, as explained by Moore, is actually more common than the Alpha Male by the simple fact that their chances for survival are better.
While Alpha Males are often gifted with superior physical attributes - size, strength, speed, good looks - selected by evolution over the eons by the strongest surviving and, essentially, getting all the girls, the Beta Male gene has survived not by meeting and overcoming adversity, but by anticipating and avoiding it. That is, when the Alpha Males were out charging after mastodons, the Beta Males could imagine in advance that attacking what was essentially an angry, wooly bulldozer with a pointy stick might be a losing proposition, so they hung back at camp to console the grieving widows.

Unfortunately Charlie's Beta Male instincts fail him when Death comes (in the form of the aforementioned Minty Fresh) and takes away his infinitely patient wife, leaving him the care of his Bowie-like androgynous waif of a sister, Jane, and caring for his lovely but unusual daughter, Sophie.

Eventually they're able to rake Charlie, chock full of antidepressants, back down from the ceiling and he resumes his trade as the owner of a secondhand shop. The store is one of those rich San Francisco landmarks full of rare and curious items, a cover which aids Charlie in his new profession as Death.
Well, actually, if we must quibble over details, Charlie is a Death Merchant, charged with a most unusual task. Sometimes when a person dies, their essence leaps into a treasured object, and it's Charlie's job to collect it and pass it on to a person in need of a soulful infusion. He's not the Big D, but merely the "Santa's Helper of Death," if you will.

Unfortunately, it takes him some time to figure out. He was sent a manual - The Great Big Book Of Death - but it's been "borrowed" by Lily, his young assistant, one of the most appealing characters in the book. Draped in black from boots to eyeliner and dripping with sarcasm, Lily is convinced that she's Death. His other employee Ray is a former cop who's convinced his boss is a serial killer, his own prurient interest in Filipino ladies with Adam's apples online aside.

Most of his assignments are simple. Nab the object - a pincushion, for example - and keep it safe. It's not bad when it's a simple keepsake. It's a bit more complicated when it's one customer's breast implants. The rules, laid down by the Big Book, don't help much.

8. You do not cause death, you do not prevent death, you are a servant of Destiny, not its agent. Get over yourself.
Eventually Charlie figures out the gig and things are sailing along; he's even turning a little profit on the Armani suits of the deceased. Unfortunately for Charlie, that's when things get a little weird. It seems his daughter has picked up some unusual talents of her own, demonstrated when she uses her new word - "Kitty!" - and bystanders start dropping over dead. That's not even to mention the two giant, coal black Hellhounds that suddenly appear as Sophie's guardians or the shrieking creatures taunting Charlie from the city sewers.
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