Friday, February 5, 2016

February 5, 2016 - Book 1 of the February 2nd Book Series: _Secondhand Souls_, by Christopher Moore

First of all, welcome back! Let me just clean up some of the dust here, and move these boxes over there - oh, look, a cockroach! I shall collect it and add it to my insect collection! Maybe I will donate it to the museum:

Um. Right. Sorry.

So. Since I last posted, I have relocated to a different city in the southern tier of New York, and I've finished and defended my dissertation (yay!), and am now over educated and sadly under employed. If you need a doctor of history, well, you know where to find me.

But enough about that. It's February, which is the second month. I'm giving this whole review blog thing a second chance. So I've decided to look at second books - the second book in a trilogy/series. I'm starting with Christopher Moore's sequel to A Dirty Job, Secondhand Souls.

Second books are sometimes tricky. Part of the plot depends on an understanding of the book which went before. Often, there is an assumption that the bigger story will be resolved, or continued, in a third book. As a result, one of the things I will be considering is how well the book stands by itself.

Moore approaches second books a little differently from other authors. On the one hand, Secondhand Souls clearly builds on the pre-established narrative of A Dirty Job. On the other hand, Dirty Job had as solid and satisfying an ending as any Moore book ever does (which is to say, Moore introduced a new character in the last 1/4 of the novel which allowed him to tie up the loose ends and put the narrative arc to bed), and so a sequel was not (and never is) a foregone conclusion. Consequently, this book has several parts where having read the first book would enhance the experience of reading this book, but no places where having read the first book was essential to enjoying this second book. If that makes sense.

So, here's the nut-shell description of the first book. Charlie Asher collects the souls of people who die in an unresolved state, vis a vis the afterlife. Those souls and then pinned to physical objects which he sells in his secondhand shop. Folks without souls are drawn to the ensouled objects, and buy them, thus acquiring a soul. Supernatural recycling. Oh, also, Asher's daughter is the embodiment of Death. Asher has some wacky adventures, fights with some Celtic crow goddesses, falls in (unlikely) love with a Buddhist nun, and then dies. We open book 2 with Ahser's soul preserved in a creature constructed, with loving care, by Audrey, the nun, out of taxidermy and lunch meat. His daughter, Sophie (now five) believes he is dead. And something screwy is taking place with the recovery of souls.

Returning in this kooky romp are Minty Fresh, the green-clad owner of a second-hand record store, Alphonse Riviera, once a cop, now the owner of a used book store, and Lily Darquewillow Elventhing Severo, fabulous Goth princess, and most excellent suicide hotline call center worker. New characters include Jean-Pierre Baptiste, a janitor, and Theeb, a spork-wielding leader of taxidermy lunch meat creatures. For all the zaniness, there is some depth here too. What does "death" mean, in a cosmic sense? What is the soul, and what do we do with it? How does love endure, even across centuries? What, in the end, is a "booty nun?"

If you liked A Dirty Job, you'll enjoy this. If you like wacky, absurdist fiction, this is a good book for you. If you like the sensation of shock which comes from walking into the bathroom at midnight to find that the cover art glows in the dark, then this is most definitely a book you should check out.

Seriously. It glows in the dark. According to the jacket notes, Beeteeth is responsible - well played, Beeteeth, well played indeed.