In the weird version of San Francisco featured in the same author’s “Love Story” trilogy of vampire novels—Bloodsucking Fiends, You Suck, and Bite Me—lives a textbook specimen of the creature known as the Beta Male. His name is Charlie Asher. He runs a second-hand shop (inherited from his father), shares a four-story apartment building (ditto) with his lesbian sister, and can’t believe his luck when a beautiful Jewish girl marries him and has his daughter. But then death swoops down in the form of a seven-foot-tall record-store owner whose name, like his wardrobe, is Minty Green. Suddenly Charlie is a widower, a single father, and because he could see Death coming for his wife, he’s Death as well. A Death, not the Death. Minty calls them Death Merchants. They collect the objects containing the souls of the dead and dying and re-sell them to someone who is ready to carry a soul through the next leg of its karmic journey. It’s sort of like reincarnation, only with a middleman. It’s a dirty job, but because being invisible is one of the required skills, it’s perfectly suited to a Beta Male.
Charlie may be more than just one of many death merchants operating in the bay area. As time goes by, he realizes that something even more spooky is going on. He might actually be the Death after all, the big D, the Luminatus. That could explain why a cackling trio of sewer harpies is after him—actually a sort of triune Celtic goddess of war known as the Morrigan. That could explain why everything is starting to go wrong, and why a prophecy in The Great Big Book of Death hints at a decisive battle between light and darkness taking place in San Francisco. Or it could have something to do with a tribe of reanimated, squirrel-sized Frankenstein monsters, a pair of bubble-belching hell-hounds, and a little girl who can kill at fifty paces by pointing her finger and saying, “Kitty!”
As book-pusher to the Harry Potter fandom, I cannot emphasize strongly enough that this book flies under an Adult Content Advisory. Be prepared for vulgar language, unrestrained sexuality, and ishy-gooey gore and violence. There is also some cause for an Occult Content Advisory, at least to the extent that some families may appreciate being forewarned of the book’s quirky take on Buddhism, especially as it relates to the afterlife. Buddhists might be as uncomfortable with it as anybody, for that matter. But even as I say this, I put full value on the power of comedy to make you squirm and laugh at the same time. There’s a branch of comedy that specializes in making you do both, intensely. Christopher Moore specializes in it. And this book does it, whether it provokes deep thoughts about delicate subjects or not.
In fact, there were passages in this book that moved me emotionally, and I’m not just talking about making me laugh until I wanted to pee. It does, at times, treat death and grief in a thoughtful, sympathetic way, like something the author has gone through and come away with insights he wants us all to share. But he doesn’t let the tone stay serious for long. Soon enough the zany antics are back up to full speed for a thrill ride of black comedy, jazzed up with audaciously inappropriate sexual humor, and topped with a scoop of sweet romance. It’s a weird recipe. Only a few authors I have read could make it work. And though he isn’t always one of them, Christopher Moore pulls it off in this book.
I enjoyed the audiobook edition of this novel, read by film actor Fisher Stevens. I borrowed it from the county library at the same time as another Christopher Moore title, Fool, which unfortunately I did not enjoy. In fact, I didn’t even finish listening to the first disk. Most authors have their good days and their bad days. I can only guess that Moore saved up a lot of his bad days for his unfortunate attempt to turn the tragedy of King Lear into a raunchy comedy. I suspect some of Moore’s other titles being things I wouldn’t enjoy, such as Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, whose synopsis suggests a level of irreverent humor way outside the bounds of good taste. You can’t hit a home run every time you go to bat. Still, I expect to be entertained by the remaining “Love Story” titles that I haven’t read yet, and many of Moore’s other novels, from Practical Demonkeeping to The Serpent of Venice.