© 2006 Christopher Moore
Charlie Asher is the last person you might expect to find stealing into the homes of the deceased, looking for beloved possessions to make off with. He's a typical Beta male -- a timid, nonconfrontational "nice guy" who survives on intelligence and disarming kindness rather than brute strength. All he ever wanted out of life was the love of a beautiful woman and the chance to keep his late father's secondhand store in business, but he saw someone he should not have seen -- Death, in the form of a tall dark stranger wearing a minty green suit standing at his wife's bedside in the hospital, where she has just given birth. The startled stranger soon vanishes, along with her favorite CD. She won't be needing it anymore, for she is now dead: killed by a blood clot in her brain formed during labor. No one else sees Death, not even the hospital security tapes -- but Charlie did, and now along with the demanding responsbility of taking care of a newborn by himself, he will soon be drafted into the ranks of Death.
The minty green stranger is not in fact Death himself: the "Big D" has been gone for centuries. Forces unknown compel those among the living, like Charlie and Minty Fresh (the hospital visitor's proper name), to seek out the dying and protect their souls. The souls attach themselves to beloved posessions, and "Death Merchants" -- Minty's name for his coworkers -- collect these posessions and deliver them to their new bodies as soon as possible, thus facilitating in reincarnation. It's a dirty job, but important -- for if souls are not protected by the likes of Charlie, they become food for the Forces of Darkness. Like the imprisoned Titans, these forces cannot be allowed to gain any strength, lest they invade Earth and chaos ensue. Charlie's life, never an epitome of normalcy -- not with mildly but lovably insane employees -- becomes increasing strange. His neighborhood and city are soon home to sinister voices from below and menacing birds from above. Charlie is a Death Merchant in a prophetic time, one in which a great battle is predicted to be fought in San Francisco -- one that will end with the rise of a new "Big D". The Death Merchants have no real idea as for whom that might signify a victory.
As Charlie settles into his role as a father and death merchant through the next six years, the predicted battle draws closer. Physical manifestations of dark spirits are able to take to the streets of San Francisco, feeding on the souls Charlie and others miss. As dark forces are wont to do, they delight in wreaking havoc. Charlie's daughter becomes an object of attention to two massive hell hounds named Alvin and Muhammad -- and then matters just get weird, culminating in a desperate drive to the Three Jewels Buddhist Center.
For a book about death, A Dirty Job is surprisingly funny, both darkly and absurdly so. Moore's dialog is particularly effective, and the characters here are more developed than in Lamb. A plot twist at the climax made for a delicious surprise, giving the endgame new vigor. If you're looking for an entertaining novel, A Dirty Job will delight.