“Have fun with writing,” Christopher Moore once said. “Be as silly and as off the wall as you want to be.” Great advice — writing should be fun. But Moore, well, he takes that to a whole new level. Just get a load of this sentence, which arrives early in his flat-out bonkers new novel, “Secondhand Souls”:

“The Emperor of San Francisco was trudging along the waterfront by the Aquatic Park when a guinea pig dressed in the pumpkin pants and satin doublet of an Elizabethan dandy ran by on disproportionately long, wading-bird legs, a small model tugboat thrown over its shoulder.”

Let me save you the suspense: That’s easily the best line in this review.

But there are even better ones in “Secondhand Souls.” Crammed with colorful, macabre characters who would feel right at home in a Tim Burton movie, this weird, expletive-laden, wildly entertaining sequel to Moore’s 2006 bestseller, “A Dirty Job,” is the perfect palate cleanser before the fall’s literary entrees (which include new novels from Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen and Salman Rushdie).

A year has passed since Charlie Asher apparently gave his life in the subterranean battle that saved San Francisco from the evil forces of darkness. But his girlfriend Audrey, a Buddhist nun, kept him alive — sort of. She used a spell called the “p’howa of forceful projection” to transfer Charlie’s soul into a body “cobbled together from disparate animal parts and a good-sized block of turkey ham,” topped with the head of a crocodile.

Now the darkness gathers again. The city is filled with the “unretrieved souls” of the dead, which are somehow being taken by “another entity” that must be “very big and very scary,” indeed. And the only people who stand a chance to stop it, of course, are Charlie and his zany gang, including the Emperor and his dogs, Bummer and Lazarus; a retired homicide detective; an edgy suicide hotline counselor; and 7-year-old Sophie Asher, a.k.a. the Big Death, who can kill anything by merely uttering the word “kitty.”

I know what you’re wondering: “Will I understand this book if I haven’t read the previous one?”

Probably not. You may not understand it even if you have read the previous one. But that won’t stop you from getting a total kick out of it. After all, how can you not catch a silly buzz from off-the-wall scenes featuring lizard-headed musketeers, stun-gun wielding cockney banshees and a politically correct “beefeater-bobcat guy” who uses a “spork as a walking stick”?

You just can’t make this stuff up. But Christopher Moore can. 

John Wilwol is a writer in Washington.

Video: Christopher Moore signs 700 copies of ‘Secondhand Souls’ at Books, Inc. in San Francisco.


By Christopher Moore

William Morrow. 335 pp. $26.99