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REVIEW: Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

Dear Mr. Moore,

A Dirty Job: A NovelA few things I know for sure when I start one of your books: it’ll be different, it’ll be funny, and somebody will die. In the case of this book, lots of people will die but then when the main character is a Death Merchant, it kind of goes with the territory.

I feel “Dirty Job” is a cross between the film “Jack and Sarah” and the short lived cable show “Dead Like Me.” Charlie is left to raise his daughter alone after his wife’s sudden death following the delivery and it’s at the moment of her death that he joins the others in San Francisco whose job it is to retrieve the object containing the soul of each dying person. No soul retrieval equals horrific Underworld upheaval. Like George, the teenage soul releaser who didn’t understand her job and didn’t initially want to do it, Charlie is left to flounder around until he finally gets his hands on “The Great Big Book of Death” (“The cover was shiny, like a children's picture book, with a colorful illustration of a grinning skeleton with tiny people impaled on his fingertips, and all of them appeared to be having the time of their lives, as if they were enjoying a carnival ride that just happened to involve having a gaping hole being punched through the chest. It was festive–"lots of flowers and candy in primary colors, done in the style of Mexican folk art. The Great Big Book of Death, was the title, spelled out across the top of the cover in cheerful, human femur font letters”) which is supposed to tell him about his job and how to do it yet which ultimately reveals little to Charlie. And like Jack, Charlie initially grieves wholeheartedly for his dead wife and spends way too many years with only his infant daughter and relatives to keep him sane.

I love the Beta Male analogies and descriptions,

Charlie's problem was that the trailing edge of his Beta Male imagination was digging at him like bamboo splinters under the fingernails. While Alpha Males are often gifted with superior physical attributes–"size, strength, speed, good looks–"selected by evolution over the eons by the strongest surviving and, essentially, getting all the girls, the Beta Male gene has survived not by meeting and overcoming adversity, but by anticipating and avoiding it. That is, when the Alpha Males were out charging after mastodons, the Beta Males could imagine in advance that attacking what was essentially an angry, woolly bulldozer with a pointy stick might be a losing proposition, so they hung back at camp to console the grieving widows. When Alpha Males set out to conquer neighboring tribes, to count coups and take heads, Beta Males could see in advance that in the event of a victory, the influx of female slaves was going to leave a surplus of mateless women cast out for younger trophy models, with nothing to do but salt down the heads and file the uncounted coups, and some would find solace in the arms of any Beta Male smart enough to survive. In the case of defeat, well, there was that widows thing again. The Beta Male is seldom the strongest or the fastest, but because he can anticipate danger, he far outnumbers his Alpha Male competition. The world is led by Alpha Males, but the machinery of the world turns on the bearings of the Beta Male.

and the fact that we get to see the Emperor of San Francisco and the troops again as well as a short cameo of Jodie, the vampire. The Morrigan, or Sewer Harpies as Charlie calls the trio of Underworld Undead Death Goddesses, are deliciously grisly in their eating habits, soulless in their efforts to grab souls before Charlie and the other Death Merchants can get them and relentless in their determination to regain their status and powers Aboveground. I really felt for poor detective Rivera– demons, owls, vampires and now Death Merchants and the Morrigan. I guess he didn’t know what he was getting himself into when he applied to join the SFPD. I also loved Minty’s wheels.

The 1957 Cadillac Eldorado Brougham was the perfect show-off of death machines. It consisted of nearly three tons of steel stamped into a massively mawed, high-tailed beast, lined with enough chrome to build a Terminator and still have parts left over–"most of it in long, sharp strips that peeled off on impact and became lethal scythes to flay away pedestrian flesh. Under the four headlights it sported two chrome bumper bullets that looked like unexploded torpedoes or triple-G-cup Madonna death boobs. It had a noncollapsible steering column that would impale the driver upon any serious impact, electric windows that could pinch off a kid's head, no seat belts, and a 325 horsepower V8 with such appallingly bad fuel efficiency that you could hear it trying to slurp liquefied dinosaurs out of the ground when it passed. It had a top speed of a hundred and ten miles an hour, mushy, bargelike suspension that could in no way stabilize the car at that speed, and undersized power brakes that wouldn't stop it either. The fins jutting from the back were so high and sharp that the car was a lethal threat to pedestrians even when parked, and the whole package sat on tall, whitewall tires that looked, and generally handled, like oversized powdered doughnuts. Detroit couldn't have achieved more deadly finned ostentatia if they'd covered a killer whale in rhinestones. It was a masterpiece.

Now for me the middle section tended to drag a bit and I didn’t need to see Charlie collect quite so many souls. Also descriptions of SF (while Charlie patrolled), while nice, added too much length — something needed to be edited, tightened a bit. And how did hellhounds appear in first place? Did Sophie “call” them? Were they sent? By who? I’m not sure I want to know the details behind your research on Ray’s internet search for love in the Philippines and in Ukraine. Though Lily’s ultimate romantic partner was a stroke of genius.

My final grade dips because the plot gets a little out of control at the end, I’m not sure what to think about what happens to Charlie and Audrey, while seemingly a very nice — and gifted– young woman, is slightly freaky (gotta agree with Minty Fresh there), and the whole squirrel people bit is hard to wrap my brain around. Nonetheless, I enjoyed reading about Charlie’s “Dirty Job.” B

~Jayne

Dirty Job can be purchased from A Dirty Job: A NovelAmazon or in ebook format from Fictionwise.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

11 Comments

  1. bam
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 15:55:58

    hey, Jayne, have you read “You Suck” yet?

    P.S I loved Dead Like Me. Stupid Showtime for cancelling it. I have the 2 seasons on DVD.

    “Hey, it’s Toilet Girl!”

    P.P.S. There’s a new show this fall on the CW called Reaper. It’s supposed to be like DLM, directed by Kevin Smith.

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  2. DS
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 16:08:34

    love Dead Like Me. They are going to do a straight to DVD movie. I understand that Mandy Patinkin has walked out of Criminal Minds so maybe they could lure him back. (oops, I meant lure him back to DLM) The first notice had him out of this project which had me wondering how good it could be.

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  3. Jessica Inclan
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 16:30:48

    This novel was funny and weird and interesting– one because I am from San Francisco–and then I was bored–skimming and cheating and getting myself to the end just to see how the characters all ended up.

    However, I know quite a few people who loved it. Many recommended it, so I will try his next one, too.

    I love the idea, though, the concept of the souls.

    Jessica Inclan

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  4. Leslie Kelly
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 16:49:30

    I liked this one quite a lot…until we got to the dead stuffed squirrel people or whatever that was.

    You Suck was very cute…but Lamb is still my fave.

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  5. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 18:05:04

    Also descriptions of SF (while Charlie patrolled), while nice, added too much length -’ something needed to be edited, tightened a bit.

    After Blood Sucking Fiends opened with the line The fog rolled in off the bay . . . (which is incorrect/impossible) I’ve been afraind to read any of his books set here in SF (which is a shame, cause he’s funny).

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  6. Jayne
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 18:46:28

    Kalen, at the end of Dirty Job, Moore says that he deliberately changes locations and other facts about SF in it (and I would assume other books as well).

    I haven’t read You Suck! yet but I do have the ebook.

    I loved DLM and thought it was really finding itself by mid season 2. Right before it got axed. Bastards!

    The squirrel people kind of sent the book slightly OTT for me too. Strange that the Death Merchants, the Morrigan, the hellhounds, and Jodie the vampire hadn’t by that time, but there you go.

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  7. TeddyPig
    Jul 26, 2007 @ 19:44:43

    Rolled in off the bay? Huh? Where? Why?

    Everyone knows the fog mugs downtown by launching itself gracefully over Twin Peaks like Bruce Lee in Return of The Dragon.

    Welcome to the city of the inevitable,
    welcome to these streets of fog.

    PS: Dead Like Me rocked!

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  8. Jennifer Estep
    Jul 27, 2007 @ 08:00:07

    I read this book a couple months ago after reading all the rave reviews about Moore. I enjoyed a lot of things about it, especially the whole Beta Male worldview.

    I gotta agree with Leslie, though. It fell apart for me as soon as those squirrel people showed up. The whole third act got just a little too bizarre, like Moore felt he had to keep adding more and more and more …

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  9. Jayne
    Jul 27, 2007 @ 08:04:35

    Moore seems to let his endings get away from him a lot. I remember it (though not to the same degree) in “Bloodsucking Fiends” and also “Island of the Sequined Love Nun” (which has to be one of the best all time titles). I think when I eventually reread this book, I’ll skip the squirrel scenes.

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  10. Kalen Hughes
    Jul 27, 2007 @ 09:28:00

    Moore says that he deliberately changes locations and other facts about SF in it (and I would assume other books as well).

    Well it comes off not like an alternative SF, but like the books are written by someone who was here once on vacation and has nothing but fuzzy memories to go by. Very off-putting to all the locals, who might otherwise be much bigger fans.

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  11. Jackie
    Jul 27, 2007 @ 09:30:38

    I love Chris Moore’s work. So far, the only ones I haven’t really been into are FLUKE and YOU SUCK. I still have to read THE STUPIDEST ANGEL and ISLAND OF THE SEQUINED LOVE NUN.

    ReplyReply

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