There’s no way in Hell Mike Rowe would take on Charlie Asher’s dirty job, not even if there was a free baseball cap involved. Which there isn’t. In fact the only things Charlie seems to get for free in exchange for his services as a “Death Merchant” are a couple of hellhounds to protect his toddler Sophie from the Sewer Harpies, a copy of the Great Big Book of Death, and some excellent deals on the estates of dead people for his thrift store in San Francisco.
And actually, with the exception of a few bloody run-ins with the Sewer Harpies and various ancient incarnations of Death, the job isn’t all that dirty in the Mike Rowe sense of the word.
Christopher Moore remains among my favorite contemporary writers. As a reader (and a writer) who surfs between literary and genre, I am satisfied by Moore on both fronts. Many people can tell an engaging and amusing genre story, but few can tell one with such literary panache.
I haven’t read the entire Moore catalogue, but A Dirty Job has taken its place at #2 on my list of Moore books, just under Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. You don’t get much better than Lamb for linked humor and profundity, and while A Dirty Job was thick with “I’ve got to read that line again” humor and there were a few moments of touching sorrow, it didn’t plumb the same philosophical quandaries as Lamb.
More importantly, A Dirty Job’s ending left me unsatisfied. Another book “ruined” (it’s hardly ruined so much as sullied) by a token romance tossed in as what seemed to be an afterthought. The romance, accompanied by its 14-inch high skull-faced squirrel minions, read like a hurried and chaotic response to some editor saying, “Chris, the book’s good, but it’s a downer for widowed Charlie to not have a love interest. Funny books should be uplifting.” The romance is neither funny nor uplifting, and it casts Beta Male Charlie in a decidedly shallow light. Really, Charlie? The hot redhead? You’ve got to be kidding me.
The one-dimensional redhead aside, you can’t beat Moore for “I wish I’d written that” characters and zingers. A Dirty Job is no exception. And perhaps readers less cynical than I—perhaps the ever-hopeful Beta Male readers— would consider the romance Charlie’s long overdue just reward.