Author: Christopher Moore
Series: CHARLIE ASHER DUOLOGY
Plot Type: Comedic Urban Fantasy (UF)
Publisher: and Titles William Morrow (Imprint of HarperCollins)
A Dirty Job (5/2006)
Secondhand Souls (8/2015)
Charlie Asher is a pretty normal guy. A little hapless, somewhat neurotic, sort of a hypochondriac. He's what's known as a Beta Male: the kind of fellow who makes his way through life by being careful and constant—you know, the one who's always there to pick up the pieces when the girl gets dumped by the bigger/taller/stronger Alpha Male.
In San Francisco, the souls of the dead are mysteriously disappearing—and you know that can’t be good—in New York Times bestselling author Christopher Moore’s delightfully funny sequel to A Dirty Job.
Nine years after Christopher Moore left poor Charlie Asher dead from Nemain's venom, he picks up the story again, setting it a year after the death of Charlie's physical body. Charlie's mind, emotions, and soul, though, are currently still alive "in a tiny body…cobbled together from disparate animal parts and a good-sized block of turkey ham" by his girlfriend, a Buddhist nun named Audrey. "When she'd met him he'd been a sweet, handsome widower—a thin fellow who wore nice, secondhand suits and was desperately trying to figure out how to raise a six-year-old daughter on his own in a world gone very strange, Now he stood knee-high, had the head of a crocodile, the feet of a duck, and he wore a puple satin wizard's robe under which was slung his ten-inch schlong."
After a year of relative peace, the underworld is again making a power play in San Francisco. Detective Inspector Alphonse Rivera, who has temporarily retired from the SFPD, is running a bookstore and has taken over Charlie's Death Merchant position, but he hasn't collected a single soul. After the Morrigan's serial murders of most of the Death Merchants in the city, only three of the original Merchants remain alive: Minty Fresh, Carrie Lang, and Charlie, who—in his present form—can't really do his Death Merchant thing any more.
The action kicks off when two very different people turn up in Rivera's bookstore with dire warnings. First, the Emperor of San Francisco claims that souls are floating to him from the fog of the bay, asking him to write down their names so that they won't be lost. Then, a shrieking banshee (aka bean sidhe) pops up to warn him that a new "dark one" has replaced Orcus (the underworld death god who was destroyed in the previous book): "This one won't come bashing through the front door like Orcus. This one's sneaky. Elegant." Next, Sophie's hell hound bodyguards disappear and her "kitty" command doesn't work any more. Minty Fresh contacts Charlie and sums up the situation for him: "So there's a banshee loose in the city, warning of coming doom. You, Rivera, and possibly many other Death Merchants have not been collecting soul vessels for over a year, and we don't know what happened to the souls of all those who died in the city during that year…And the only thing that was keeping the forces of darkness at bay has been demoted to, what, a first grader." Charlie responds, "Second…But she's in the advanced reading group."
Added to the mix are a bridge painter named Mike Sullivan who can communicate with ghosts and a rebellion by Audrey's horde of Squirrel People, led by Bob, one of the tiny heroes of the previous book. Mike's connection with the Golden Gate Bridge, which is swarming with souls, is a key plot element: "A bridge is a place between, we are souls that are between." I'm not going to try to summarize the twisty-turny plot, except to say that the horrible Morrigan sisters are back, looking for payback and accompanied by their sinister new leader, who drives a huge, chrome-laden, vintage, yellow Buick.
By the end of the book, Moore has tied up every loose end from A Dirty Job, making sure that all of the characters have either achieved their HEAs or have been properly punished for their accumulated sins. As in all of Moore's books, this one is a hilarious mix of slapstick action, quirky characters, snarky dialogue, bloody action, and snide commentary on modern life.
Particularly moving is Lily Severo, the wannabe Goth girl who worked in Charlie's thrift store in A Dirty Job. Lily wants nothing more than to have some important magical powers—just like Charlie, Minty, and the rest of their "Scoobie" gang. After she and Minty started a restaurant (a jazz/pizza parlor that failed almost immediately) and broke up, Lily became a suicide hotline responder, which sets her up to play a key role in this book's main story line. Moore gives Lily more layers this time around as she desperately tries to prove to herself and her friends that she is important—that she has a definite place within their ranks. At various times, she is outrageously profane (most of the time), devastatingly sad, efficiently in charge, and (always) emotionally on edge. In this book, she is the most highly developed of all of the characters.
If you are a Christopher Moore fan, this duology is not to be missed, but please read the books in sequence or you'll hate yourself. (Really, you will.) Click HERE to go to a GoodReads page with humorous quotations from Secondhand Souls. Click HERE to read or listen to an excerpt on this novel's Amazon.com page. Just click on either the cover art or the "Listen" icon.
Just one small nitpick: Annoyingly, this book is scattered with word-use errors, probably due to a reliance on electronic spellcheck and a lack of effective eyes-on-the-page copy proofing. Just a few examples: "Here" instead of "her"; "ringer" instead of "wringer" (for a mop bucket); "It your daddy" instead of "It's your daddy."