In the world of this story, something happened 8+ years ago that changed how death works. When someone is killed (or murdered?) by another person, instead of staying dead they pop out of existence and reappear, naked and alive, in their own home, wherever in the world that happens to be. Well, most of the time. There's a one in a thousand chance that they'll stay dead.
No one knows how this change came to be, or why, but it has resulted in the creation of a new job, Dispatcher. Dispatchers are people trained and licensed to kill people who are about to die, so that they can come back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher substituting for another Dispatcher at a hospital. It seems like a normal enough assignment until he's roped into an investigation into the disappearance of the Dispatcher he was substituting for.
This was okay. The setup was really interesting, but I had trouble getting a handle on the conditions under which someone would come back to life. I initially thought that their death required the direct and immediate involvement of another human being. However, that would have meant that there was nothing for anybody to worry about in the part where a woman was hit by a truck. Another human being was driving the truck that hit her, so she should have died and then reappeared in her own home.
Near the end of the story, other details were provided that seemed to indicate that intention played a role. Since the driver hadn't intended to kill the woman, she would simply have died. I assume this means that if someone had intentionally poisoned someone, their victim would have come back to life, but if they had accidentally poisoned the person, their victim would simply have died. I'm not sure even that quite fits, however. Wouldn't it mean that Dispatchers' victims would almost never come back to life? Valdez didn't consider what he did to be murder. He was providing a service that was almost guaranteed to save people's lives. Since he didn't kill people with the intention of them staying dead, shouldn't they all have, well, stayed dead? Unless he was lying when he was describing how he viewed his work - quite possible, considering how many other things he lied about or failed to immediately mention.
I have a feeling I'm probably overthinking this, but I couldn't help trying to tease apart the details of how all of this worked, since the details turned out to be very important at several points in the story. One of those instances in particular made it difficult to believe that 1) Valdez had been doing this job for 8 years and 2) that he'd had a great deal of experience with the shadier aspects of Dispatcher work. It shouldn't have taken him as long as it did to figure out how a couple hired thugs were going to make use of one aspect of the whole "killing you, but not really" thing.
The resolution to the mystery of the missing Dispatcher was very emotional, but something about the way the story was written resulted in it having less impact that it should have. Maybe the problem was that so much of the story involved Valdez (and occasionally the cop) visiting people and asking questions. The emotional resolution was mostly pieced together second- or third-hand by Valdez - none of it happened on-page. Heck, even the missing Dispatcher never had an on-page appearance.
All in all, this wasn't bad but could have been better. On the plus side, Zachary Quinto's narration was excellent. I've listened to The Dispatcher twice now, and Quinto was a large part of the reason why.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)