I almost forgot about Christopher Moore! I stumbled across his new Death book at the library, then realized that I hadn’t read the previous Death book and picked it up. It’s really good!
One feature that makes it especially easy to like is its setting in San Francisco. As with his vampire novels (You Suck et al), Moore absolutely nails the city in its modern incarnation, down to the mundane elements that locals know but do not think about. The other books famously feature the Marina Safeway; here, we get to see small bookshops in the Mission, live produce on Stockton, boring houses in the Sunset, and similar locales. It isn’t flashy, and definitely doesn’t require preexisting knowledge of the city, but helps it feel nicely grounded without ever feeling like “Oooh, look at us, this city is so cool and important!”
I was delighted to see that he also brought back the Emperor and his troops. Norton is always fun, in any medium or story. He has a small role here, just popping up as an observer from time to time. His insanity allows him to see things that most residents of the city cannot, and his good cheer connects him with the protagonists as they carry out their more deadly missions.
One interesting feature of the book is how much time elapses; I think we get something like five years between the opening and the climax. It isn’t from one or two jumps, either: you get the sensation of time gradually passing, Sophie growing from an infant to a toddler to a child, Charlie processing his grief, Jane sorta maturing and settling down, everyone else getting a little bit older. I guess this is a little like Lamb, which famously covers the time period between Jesus’s childhood and ministry. Most of Moore’s other books, from what I can remember, are more conventionally written, covering the events of a relatively short period of time. Showing time passing like this seems like a bigger challenge, particularly when a baby changes so drastically, and I think Moore did a great job pulling it off.
I was a little disappointed by the cover art for the book; at least in my edition, it features a skull baby in a baby carriage. That made it really obvious from too early on that Sophie really was Death/Luminatus, diminishing much of the potential surprise. I think it’s revealed pretty well within the book, with ample evidence given along the way, so it’s a shame that it’s presented so clearly before you start reading.
That said - I’m pretty sure that there were a few times early on when Charlie seemingly killed someone WITHOUT Sophie being present, and I’m not sure if that’s ever explained within the book. This gets more confusing in the epilogue, where Charlie is addressed as Death, making it seem like they are two different entities after all. Fortunately, I’ve already picked up the latest book, and may be able to soon resolve the mystery for myself!
This was a really good read. I think the vampire books were a little more fun, and his more recent books like Blue and Fool are more effective at plumbing dark topics, but I enjoyed this more than, say, Lamb or Fluke. It could also serve as a great entry point for someone who hasn’t previously read Moore: it does a great job at showcasing his comedic gifts and his effectiveness at crafting smart, tight horror.