Secondhand Souls is another entertaining entry in Christopher Moore’s long line of first-rate whimsical satires.

Image provided by Amazon/William Morrow

Fans met the hero of Secondhand Souls, Charlie Asher, in A Dirty Job. That book saw Charlie, owner of a secondhand store and a widowed single dad to adorable young Sophie, embrace his role as a Death Merchant, a sort of junior not-so-Grim Reaper. He collected “soul objects” from the dead and dying and made sure they got passed on to their new owners. Along the way, Charlie learned that Sophie was the new incarnation of capital-D Death.

A Dirty Job ended with Charlie, technically speaking, dead. But Audrey, his Buddhist nun girlfriend, had retrieved his soul and housed it in one of the Squirrel People, patchwork Franken-critters she’d cobbled together as receptacles for the souls she’d gathered. With most people believing he was dead, Charlie’s sister, Jane, and her wife, Cassie, were raising Sophie.

A series of events leads Charlie to fear a new dark entity is about to rise in San Francisco. Thousands of souls have gone missing. After Alvin and Mohammad, the hellhounds who were Sophie’s constant protectors, disappear. Charlie fears Sophie’s lost her powers. The Squirrel People are acting mysteriously. A mysterious man in yellow is popping up all over the place with his fingers in everything. And a well-intentioned Banshee keeps dropping by with warnings. Charlie needs a new body to be of any use.

Key allies include fellow Death Merchants Minty Fresh (proprietor of a vintage music shop) and River, a semi-retired cop and used bookstore proprietor. Also helping are Lily, Charlie’s former employee, now working for a crisis hotline; Mike, a painter on the Golden Gate Bridge who encounters several ghosts; and The Emperor of San Francisco, an intuitive homeless man with a strong connection to the city. Those lives intersect as threats old and new emerge, leading to a climax at the Bridge.

Moore is one of the more entertaining modern writers working today. His speculative satires are packed with interesting characters, amusing passages and well-placed details. Secondhand Souls does a nice job of continuing the story begun in A Dirty Job. Moore subtly charts the growth of the cast while retaining the aspects that made them endearing in the first place.

Charlie has the most interesting journey, of course. Seeing him acclimate to life as a patchwork critter before landing in a new body provides a lot of the humor of Secondhand Souls. Charlie’s an appealing everyman who steps up into heroism when it’s called for. Rivera and Minty take on larger roles in the sequel, which is a good thing. They’re two of Moore’s stronger creations and they stand up to the spotlight rather well. Lily remains Moore’s comedic hand grenade and he does some wonderful things with the Jane/Cassie/Sophie dynamic. Moore handles the more melancholy aspects of the story rather sensitively, providing some good balance to the storytelling.

The climax is less action-intensive than some of Moore’s other novels, but that works out just fine. This is a more character-focused story, those journeys are all well-served, and the various plot threads come together in the finale. It’s an entertaining romp through the forces of darkness.

Moore has long made clear that all his books occur in the same world and Secondhand Souls contains Easter eggs that fans of his earlier work will spot and enjoy. It’s most closely tied to Moore’s San Francisco-set vampire trilogy, with whom it shares several characters. But those connections aren’t a barrier to entry. A Dirty Job really is the only prerequisite reading necessary.

Secondhand Souls keeps Moore’s batting average high and leaves a couple of plot points unresolved, so that fans can look forward to another romp in this corner of Moore’s universe. Highly recommended.

Originally published at thunderalleybcpcom.ipage.com on October 7, 2015.

Author (Grievous Angels) and pop culture gadabout #amwriting

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