A Dirty Job
by Christopher Moore
I think there's a reason the more humorous books I've read like "Slaughterhouse-Five" or "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" are around 200 pages. If it goes on much longer than that, the plot becomes too ridiculous and the bit overdone like an SNL sketch that goes on for fifteen minutes. So maybe if "A Dirty Job" would have wrapped about 200 pages earlier I would have enjoyed it more.
The book is about Charlie Asher, Beta Male (Betas are the nerds to the Alpha Male jocks in "Revenge of the Nerds"), whose wife dies after giving birth. Charlie sees someone in the room, someone no one else can see and because of this and perhaps other reasons, he becomes a Death Merchant. If you only skim the book jacket and Amazon descriptions you might think this is about Charlie Asher becoming the Grim Reaper and having to perform the functions of Death--the sort of thing that's been done before recently on "Family Guy" and "The Simpsons" for popular culture examples. That's not what a Death Merchant does; what exactly a Death Merchant does is a little unclear. They go to the houses of those who are dead or dying and take glowing objects that contain the person's soul. Then they wait to sell the object to someone else and perhaps the soul will transfer to that person. (Don't ask me to get into the logical and philosophical dynamics of this. The less said, the better.)
Complicating things are the Forces of Darkness, who are shadowy raven-women called the Morrigan. (What Celtic spirits of the underworld are doing in San Francisco is another matter best not contemplated. You'd think they'd be in New York or Boston or somewhere with a higher percentage of Irish descendants, but maybe they wanted to retire somewhere warmer?) The Morrigan want to steal the souls and use them to gain all their old powers and take over the world. Charlie, together with a Goth girl who works for him at his second-hand store, a huge black man named Minty Fresh, and an army of critters pieced together from animal carcasses must do battle with the Underworld to save humanity! (You see what I mean about this getting ridiculous yet?)
The book does at least retain its sense of humor throughout, with some snappy banter between the characters. Though, really, the Goth girl, the lesbian sister dressing in Charlie's clothes, and Asian neighbor who wants to eat all of Charlie's pets are a little stale. And the Arab who starts screaming "Death to the infidel!" when he finds out one of Charlie's dogs is named Mohammad might be racially offensive.
The absolute worst thing about this book is that it employs a phenomenon often seen on TV and movies. (I remember reading about it last year but can't remember the exact term. I think it even has a Wikipedia page.) That is, the plot depends on our hero being an idiot and overlooking the obvious for about 300 pages and five years. You can figure out the big plot twist on who is the book's Neo, The Chosen One, by the first third of the novel. If you can't stare long and hard at the cover and maybe the answer will come to you. But Charlie, because the plot depends on it, can't figure this out, nor can any of his friends. There's not much worse when you get to the dramatic conclusion and already know how it's going to turn out, so that even as Charlie is battling the Forces of Darkness in an epic struggle and you're thinking, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, just get to it already."
There are one or two serious thoughts on death that are interesting. Nothing too sappy or morose to drag down the book's light tone. The book just goes on for too long with our hero being unaware of the obvious, so while it's entertaining enough, it wears out its welcome.
That is all.