Imagine that you wake up one day and find you are Death. Literally: you’re a grim reaper, or rather a Death Merchant, charged with collecting people’s souls after they die. Additionally you are a single parent in San Francisco ― which is more problematic, really, given the cost of living in the Bay Area. That is the premise of Christopher Moore’s cult classic A Dirty Job, whose protagonist finds himself battling the forces of darkness while also trying to raise his infant daughter and run a thrift store in North Beach.
Broad comedy and dark humor abound, as do cameos by city landmarks and personalities, the most prominent of which is Emperor Norton who sort of hovers over the proceedings like a scruffy guardian angel along with his faithful canine companions, Bummer and Lazarus.
Also featured are the cute yet creepy creations of local artist Monique Motil, little creatures made from patched together animal bones, taxidermied bits and pieces and fancy little Victorian outfits of velvet and lace. You can glimpse a few of them for yourself at the equally gorgeous ’n’ morbid Paxton Gate store over on Valencia Street.
Moore has written several books set in the city itself or in his recurring setting, a fictional Bay Area town called Pine Cove. His most popular other San Francisco novels are about vampires, natch ―possibly the genre best suited to this metropolis other than noir.
In Bloodsucking Fiends and its sequel, You Suck, we follow Jody, a young woman whom we first meet walking home from her job at the TransAmerica Pyramid before she is attacked and wakes up feeling a curious aversion to daylight. Hijinks naturally ensue as she figures out her new life and meets up with C. Thomas Flood, a new arrival to the city. Moore shows us glimpses of San Francisco ― Chinatown, North Beach, the homeless, the yuppies ― through Flood’s eyes, and quite fairly pokes fun at its flaws while still displaying a great deal of affection for the city.
Here again, our true patron saint; the Emperor of California and Protector of Mexico, plays a part in protecting our fair city from the supernatural forces.
With stories that manage to involve a slew of colorful and often recurring characters and even scenes, and a gift for memorable turns of phrase, Moore has become my current favorite light reading. And I say “light” not meaning to be dismissive in any way, but because the stories are fun and a fast read. In fact, Moore manages to touch on love, family, religion and the human condition, especially in Lamb and Coyote Blue, in thoughtful and touching ways.
On his website he mentions among his influences Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Robbins, and Douglas Adams, and indeed tossing those three into a blender (their styles, that is ― yuck) would be a good description of what to expect from a Christopher Moore book: fast-paced, darkly humorous and often in questionable taste (the Teletubby line in A Dirty Job made me spit coffee out my nose while simultaneously recoiling in horror) but loads of fun to read.