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March 15-21, 2006

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A Dirty Job

Scythe for Sore Eyes: Christopher Moore does not shy from the Grim Reaper in his new novel, 'A Dirty Job.'

Death Takes a Pratfall

Christopher Moore returns to California with a tale of comic mayhem about a matter no less weighty than Death himself

By Rick Kleffel


'DYING IS easy," observed actor Edmund Gwenn. "Comedy is difficult." So that puts a comedy about death where, exactly? Harder than most comedy? Certainly easier than death itself.

We're not likely to know how easy or hard it was for Christopher Moore to pull off his new novel, A Dirty Job. He's going boldly where many have gone before. He's going boldly where comedic talents like Terry Pratchett have gone before.

In order to go there, you have to be bold. He's written a comedy about Death—you know, the guy in the black cape with the scythe? That Death. With a different, minty-green dress code.

But we know that Moore is actually pretty much way beyond bold. You don't write a novel about the "lost years" of Jesus unless you're willing-to-have-stuff-thrown-at-you bold, but Lamb is one of the bestsellers mentioned on the dustjacket of A Dirty Job. Moore has, in fact, pulled off the rather difficult feat of making a career out of writing humorous horror. That, too, is a dirty job, and his readers are glad that he's up to the task.

The whole "dirty job" idea might very well be the genesis of Moore's latest novel. Death and comedy do go hand in hand. Both are universal, though death is rather more common. This is unfortunate, and Moore is doing his part to correct the imbalance.

In A Dirty Job, Charlie Asher is there the moment his daughter is born. He alone sees the guy in mint-green golf wear at his wife's bedside. This proves not to be a fortunate vision. From that moment forward, Charlie's life gets more difficult—comedically difficult, to be precise. But helping Charlie to make that difficult comedy so much easier is death, and lots of it.

Moore's latest is set in San Francisco, and large parts of the novel take place in the sewers beneath the city. When asked about his research into this potentially putrid subject, Moore replied, "Basically I looked at a few sewer grates from the street and made the rest up. Anyone who wants to call me on sewer accuracy really needs to check their own priorities."

While Moore may play fast and loose with our waste stream, he is a stickler for the rules of supernatural novels. "The only real rule to a supernatural story is that it needs to be consistent to its own internal logic. The writer can decide that you can kill werewolves with a silver bullet—or not—but he has to stick to that convention."

With each new novel, Moore gets to create a new set of rules. "In A Dirty Job, I very much mess with the idea of the evolution of souls through reincarnation."

Wending his way through the sewers is Charlie Asher, whom Moore describes as a beta male. "The way I define the beta male," explains, "is a strain of guys who survived through the millennia by virtue of developing a big imagination, rather than big muscles, good looks or aggression, the way an alpha male may have prevailed. The beta survived not by meeting and beating danger, but by anticipating and avoiding it.

His "big teeth," so to speak, are his imagination. Logic tells you that when a beta male is confronted with an extraordinary or supernatural situation, the way Charlie is in A Dirty Job, that he'll have an easier time wrapping his imagination around it and seeing the new rules than would someone who is more locked into a system of thought.

Moore, who has tackled demons, vampires, dragons, sequined love nuns and even Christmas zombies, is not going to find himself locked into any systems of thought. He has proved himself to be a master of escape. But now, he has crossed the final frontier. And his next book will certainly answer the question as to what precisely comes after death.


A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore; Morrow; $24.95 cloth. Moore appears for a booksigning event on March 23 at noon at M Is for Mystery, 86 E. Third Ave., San Mateo. (650.401.8077)


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