The Book: Christopher Moore, A DIRTY JOB. William Morrow, 2006 (first edition). Inscribed by the author: "To Clair: Missing you already!!! Christopher" (that is, I think it's "Christopher" -- the c, h, t and r are legible)
First read: 2006
Owned since: 2006
Disclaimer: I don't know Chris Moore well, only as bookseller/fan to author. He is kind enough to remember my name (and my ever-changing hair color, which he often comments on) whenever we meet. The inscription has to do with the fact that he signed the book at The Mystery Bookstore, during his first visit to the store after I'd moved to Maine.
A DIRTY JOB is not quite a horror novel, although it does feature demons, harpies, hellhounds and Death itself, and an important subplot is directly ripped off from -- er, brilliantly inspired by -- The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Charlie Asher is a "beta male" who's found a comfortable place for himself in the world when his beloved wife, Rachel, dies in childbirth. At the time of Rachel's death, Charlie sees a stranger in her hospital room -- a tall black man in mint-green golfwear -- who turns out to be Minty Fresh (introduced in Moore's earlier novel COYOTE BLUE), who is now working as a Merchant of Death. Minty Fresh recruits Charlie to the service of Death -- distributing souls that get transferred from their bodies to material objects, which find their way into the hands of the new people who are supposed to have them. But Charlie doesn't read the manual, and makes a few early mistakes that unleash apocalyptic havoc from the underworld.
A DIRTY JOB is a comedy about death that is also a deeply compassionate study of grief, and I read it soon after Mom died (Moore wrote it in the wake of the deaths of his own mother and his wife-like girlfriend's mother). It helped me laugh at my own grief while not feeling ridiculous about it, and I will give copies to people in similar situations for many years to come.