A Dirty Job is quirky, weird, dark, and creative, if a little clumsily plotted. For some people, it might also be hilarious, though it didn’t hit my humor wavelength quite right. I needed a book for a car trip, and this was on sale at Audible, so I decided to give Christopher Moore a shot. People had described him as darkly funny, and mentioned that his vampire books are a good antidote to vampiric books (which I don’t need, because I still like vampires.)
Anyway, this book doesn’t really have vampires, but it does have hellhounds, zombie squirrels, and a guy who deals in secondhand souls. The main character is Charlie Asher, who becomes a death merchant soon after his wife dies. I won’t get into what exactly that means, because I don’t want to spoil it for you.
The thing I liked most about the book were the characters. They’re a little over-the-top, like the 7 foot tall guy named “Minty Fresh” and the underage gothic chef, and the ex-cop who can’t turn his head, but they’re over-the-top in amusing and different ways. I also liked that Moore mixed his comedy with tragedy. The novel deals with death, people on their deathbeds, people dying unexpectedly, estate sales, etc. and Moore doesn’t let Charlie get away unscathed. There are a few genuinely touching moments amid the death and ridiculous set pieces.
What I really wanted to like, but didn’t, was the humor. Zombie squirrels in 14th century ballgowns should have been hilarious, but instead they felt just creepy and sad and a bit of a stretch, even given the rest of it. Why can I buy a Buddhist monk transferring the souls of the dead and not buy that she’d make little costumes for her zombies? Dunno. Maybe it’s because I’ve made period costumes before, and it seems like way too much work to expend on a creature that’s going to be mucking about in sewers.
I liked his neighbor/nannies, the Russian with constant ursine simlies and the Chinese woman who is less than discriminate about where her meat comes from. I thought they were funny, but uncomfortably so, because so much of the joke rested on racial stereotypes. The Morrigan (the antagonists) were less enjoyable. They were too trite to be scary and too violent to be funny.
There was one thing that really crossed the line for me. Charlie and Ray are in the gym watching “fuck puppets” who are basically professional girlfriends. Kind of like mistresses. I really resented the term “fuck puppets,” and found it too misogynistic even when used to describe women who are basically one-client prostitutes. Charlie using that term pushed him from being a nice guy to being a “nice guy” one of those sleazy passive pathetic manipulative wimps who think they can guilt a woman into having sex with them. Maybe that’s the kind of guy he was supposed to be all along; Moore goes on and on about how Charlie is a “beta male” which he elaborates in less-than-flattering terms.
But Charlie is the hero, and he does act heroic, though it takes him a long time to get there. Which brings me to the second problem I had with this book: the pacing. The Morrigan mark him as an enemy almost from the get-go. They’re evil, they’re violent, they want to eat him alive and pop his eyes into their mouth, etc. So why does it take them over six years to finally kill him? Charlie says he’s been protected by something, but that felt like a cop-out. They were supposed to be evil and rapacious and hell-bent on killing him, but they don’t really try very hard. If I wanted to kill Charlie Asher as badly as the Morrigan supposedly did, he’d be dead, and I don’t have supernatural abilites or poisoned claws, I just know how to get a job done.
The story is quirky, and weird to the point of being ridiculous, but mostly the weirdness fits in with the story. There were a few things which weren’t adequately explained, which felt like they were included for comic relief and/or to add action scenes without fitting in well with the overall story. I don’t think most readers will be bothered by that. The characters are amusing, and I liked the dialog, though people who hate swear words should take note that there are more than a few f-bombs.
If Christopher Moore’s particular sense of goofy dark humor makes you laugh, you will probably enjoy this book.
I feel I need to make some special comment about the audioversion, since I listened to it. The reader (I’m sorry I can’t remember, but maybe there’s only one version on Audible) did all the voices, and he mostly did a good job. The baby’s voice was annoying, but that’s hard to fix. My main complaint was that the volume was so low that when he did some of the women’s voices (husky and low, like a drag queen) I couldn’t hear at all.