I enjoy Christopher Moore‘s books. Despite the fact he won’t own up to his writing fantasy, all of his books have wonderfully fantastical elements, from horny sea monsters to loser vampires to crazy whale boys to the best friend of the son of god, they’re all fun, entertaining reads.
Recently, he’s actually started to get a bit of depth into his work. Sure, they’re still full of “bad” language and scatological humor, but there’s also something else going on. With Fool and The Serpent of Venice (which I reviewed here) he was retelling Shakespeare (he also had a brief flirtation with Hamlet in Island of the Sequined Love Nun) and, Sacre Bleu, while still a fantasy, probably had less of the 5th grade humor his books had been known for and was an actual, honest to goodness, grown up book. It was still funny, but it’s a more sophisticated humor.
Which is why Secondhand Souls feels like the fifth grader has been locked up in a dark room and broke free just to write this book, a sequel, of sorts, to 2006’s A Dirty Job. I say “sort of” because it really feels like a continuation of the same story, and yet with enough retelling of what happened in the last book to make reading superfluous if you happened to read this one first. I understand you need to bring readers up to speed, but at times it gets a bit exposition heavy.
The plot again involves death merchants, the folks who are assigned by “The Big D” to gather the soul vessels of the recently departed (the object in which their soul has been transferred for safe keeping) and redistribute them to a new body, and in this way perpetuate the Buddhist cycle of rebirth until they are able to reach enlightenment. All the main characters are back from the first book along with a couple of new people, whose plot purposes seems a bit too on the nose for Moore’s purposes (as an example, the reader is able to figure out key points long before the character does).
At the same time, Sophie, the 7-year-old personification of Death, curses like a sailor. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the clumsy way Moore handles it, her language feels like the author putting words in her mouth rather than them being an organic consequence. It’s like Moore is giving us every Internet video of a child cursing in order to show how clever and hip he is and after a while, it just gets boring and repetitive. At the end of the day, he’s reaching for low hanging fruit and honestly, we’ve come to expect more from him in that regard.
Then there’s the whole shared universe thing. True, he’s been doing it for a while, but searching for connections between characters from different books is getting to be a bit of a tired thing. When someone can publish an essay on how all of Adam Sandler’s characters are related (and no, I’m not linking) you know the shared universe concept has kinda run its course.
As I listened to this book, rather than read it, I must point out that Fisher Stevens is a fantastic narrator. He absolutely inhabits the characters and brings them, individually, to life. A rare feat considering there are some scenes with seven or eight speaking parts.
As it stands, I’m still a fan, and patiently waiting for the next book. Because even when he’s not as good as usual, he’s still better than 90% of what else is out there.