A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
I probably never would have heard of this author if it hadn't been for the Cannonball Read. I noticed quite a few people were reading novels by Moore, especially Bloodsucking Fiends. However, the novel with the concept that sounded most intriguing to me was reviewed by one of the people that didn't make the cut off, and was reading on his own. As a result of that review, I picked up A Dirty Job. The reason this one appealed to me might also have something to do with the fact that I watch Supernatural and the idea reminded me slightly of the Grim Reapers (and I liked Tessa, the one that was supposed to help Dean).
First off, the novel was hilarious. While there might have been a small detail here and there that I didn't really agree with or thought was over the top, it didn't bug me because it was such a fun read, and light-hearted, especially considering the topic of death. This statement might cause a few people to disagree with me, but something about Moore's style reminded me of Neil Gaiman. I'm not saying they are copying each other at all, but both have a kind of dry approach to a quirky world, and Charles Asher, the kind of average everyman character of this novel certainly shared certain similarities with Richard of Neverwhere or Charlie of Anansi Boys.
Shortly after his wife Rachel gives birth to their daughter, Charles watches her die. The doctor say it was a blood clot that traveled up to her brain and caused an aneuryism but Charles watched a man come into her hospital room as she died. Except no one else saw him. The doctors and everyone else write it off as stress but other weird things start occuring to and around Charles as well until he finally realizes that he is death. Well, one of his helpers. And it's not so much that he helps people die as that he helps their souls move on.
Still, something is brewing. There are dark forces which are trying to gain power, and while they were driven underground long ago, the scales might be tipping in their favor, possibly having to due with a prophecy concerning the Illuminatus, the original big Death that has been absent for a long time.
While Charlie is trying to deal with his new position as a "death merchant," he also still has to run his second hand store with two crazy employees (Ray, an ex-cop, and Charlie both suspect each other of being serial killers), deal with his sister's occasional antics and raise his daughter as a single father with the help of his upstairs neighbors (the neighbors, one Chinese and one Russian woman, while entertaining, were played for laughs and portrayed as stereotypes - one of those things I probably would have normally had more of an issue with). Charlie attempts to raise his daughter as normally as possible given the circumstances, going through extreme troubles to make sure she has pets but they have a tendency to drop dead in the apartment.
On occasion, Charlie seems rather dense about things, and I think Moore expects the reader to fgure things out before Charlie does - I mean, it's spelled out rather obviously. As much as Charlie occasionally gets things wrong, he is a very likable character that tries to do the right thing and the best that he can with the tools he has.