Oh, and after all this time I learned something else about being dead.
Death is failure.
Death is loss.
Everything—who you are, what you know—goes.
Whoever you thought you were, you weren’t and you’re not.
When he was alive, Charlie Stone was married multiple times to pretty horrible women (if we're to believe him -- and we might as well, he seems pretty upfront and honest about this kind of thing), not that he was any catch, either. But he really only loved one person, Grace Morgan. Grace broke things off with Charlie and moved on with her life, but apparently after hearing about his murder, she was moved to change her approach to art -- deciding to challenge the audience, forcing them to realize how close to death they are.
Yeah, it sounds pretty silly and pretentious to me, but hey...that's not the important part of the story. Maybe if we got more examples of her art, I'd care more and maybe even understand. What is important about Grace, for our purposes, is that her life is in danger, it's because of this danger that Charlie and Rose have been brought from their afterlife-limbo back to Earth.
The book opens with one of the more blatant suicide-by-cop scenes you've ever read, which is intended to serve as protection for Grace. It doesn't work out, or the book would be really short. Powerless to do anything but watch and hope things turn out okay, Charlie and Rose travel around L.A. discovering for themselves what it was that endangered Grace in the first place -- which brings them into a world of drugs, sweatshop workers, deceptive piñatas, and smuggled birds.
This is a very tangled story, it takes Charlie quite a while to put the pieces together -- Rose has her own priorities in this mess and spends some time away from Charlie, unwilling to turn her focus on his behalf. The way that this criminal enterprise is eventually revealed to work not only seems like something that really exists, but is revealed in a way that is narratively satisfying.
Charlie will tell his readers over and over that there's no character growth in death -- that's nonsense. Post-mortem Charlie is a much more emotionally mature and self-sacrificing kind of guy than pre-mortem Charlie was. In this book we see him come to -- or at least acknowledge -- a greater and deeper understanding of what love is, and what he allowed his previous relationship to become. It may not do him any good in the afterlife, but Charlie is better for it, and in someway we can hope that Grace is better off having gone through all this, so that whatever life has in store for her can be tackled face-on.
I love these characters -- even while we readers don't fully understand their circumstances, how they know where to go, what brings them to this world at certain times. Even while they don't have much better of an idea than we do (at least Charlie doesn't). I love how while they can't interact with their environment, the people they see and events they watch unfold, they are driven to find answers, driven to care about what's happening. There's something about that compulsion -- and success they have in figuring things out -- that matters more than when Bosch or Spenser or Chin and Smith put all the pieces together to thwart someone.
This wasn't as amusing as previous installments, but it was just as satisfying -- maybe more so. For a good mystery with oddly compelling characters, once again, look no further than Jo Perry.
The L.A. County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner has a gift shop?? Why isn't anyone investigating this? It may be real, it may be popular and legal. But surely that's a crime against tact, right?