Death’s Awkward Helper – “A Dirty Job” by Christopher Moore
“A Dirty Job” was my first ever exposure to an author I eagerly anticipate each new release from with a kind of Christmas morning relish. Christopher Moore is a wonderful writer of the absurd, a man as comfortable with pure nonsense as he is with a well-crafted and laugh-inducing story.
Having now absolutely read every single thing Moore has ever written, “A Dirty Job” remains my hands-down favorite – as well as one of my top five books of all time.
I re-read this book recently, and was reminded all over again why I adore it so much. In addition to being one of the funniest books on the planet, it’s got a compelling story with an original conceit, and a cast full of vivid and memorable characters.
Charlie Asher runs a thrift store in San Francisco. His wife Rachel dies giving birth to their first child, an adorable little girl named Sophie. Telling you Rachel dies isn’t a spoiler, since it happens in the first chapter. Almost immediately, Charlie’s life turns weird. Random strangers he encounters have items (like an umbrella) that only Charlie can see glowing, moments before the stranger dies. Turns out, Charlie has become a “Death Merchant.” (Think like a department store Santa Claus – not the REAL Santa, but merely a helper because Santa can’t be everywhere at once.) The glowing items contain the person’s soul, and Charlie has to take them from the dead people.
While Beta Male Charlie struggles to raise a baby as a single father, he also has to learn how to successfully ease strangers into death while not arousing the suspicion of a cop that’s hanging around. There are also a trio of black birds haunting him, and menacing him, which just makes him look crazy as he talks to them while walking down the street.
Fortunately, Charlie is aided in his complicated endeavors by some of the most colorful characters ever to arise from ink on paper. Charlie’s two store employees, loser Ray and goth-wiseass Lily, provide constant comic relief, while his lesbian sister and two elderly Asian lady neighbors share the duties of watching Sophie and trying to get their dear Charlie back into the world of dating. Lily, in particular, is a stand-out. A high schooler who swears like a sailor and changes hair color frequently, she provides tons of witty banter as well as actual relevant help. (Think of the Abby character from “NCIS,” and you’ll know what I mean. Only Lily is meaner.)
Moore likes to re-use his characters, which intertwines many of his novels (not unlike Stephen King) and “A Dirty Job” introduces Lily’s goth friend Abby Normal (who got her own Moore book recently with “Bite Me”) and a homeless man known as The Emperor of San Francisco, who’s made a few appearances through the years.
Oh, and there are two hellhounds who mysteriously appear to watch over Sophie.
Oh, and for some reason when little Sophie points at people and says “kitty,” they drop dead.
I can’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a total surprise and a complete delight.
Even now, years after I first read it, re-reading it causes me to laugh out loud in public places. I still care about the characters and still get excited as the action ramps up. Why it hasn’t yet been adapted into a film or TV series I have no idea.
Fantastic book. I can’t tell you enough times to go read it. Go. Read it right now.