Reviewed by Johnny Butane
Written by George Pendle
Published by Three Rivers Press
Imagine if you will, that Death realized sometime in the early 21st Century that his story needed to be told. All everyone knows about him is that he’s the last thing they see before they enter the hereafter, and most people are outright afraid of him. So he’s decided that it’s time to set the record straight, the results of which are Death: A Life, as told to George Pendle. Or that’s how it’s played out. The entire story is in first person from Death’s perspective, as it should be to hear the entire story as it really happened.
From his early youth in Hell being raised by Satan, his father and Sin, his mother, we follow Death through the many trials and tribulations of his younger days, when he was just another immortal being wondering what his ultimate purpose was, sleeping with his mother (she is Sin, after all, he couldn’t help himself) and spending time enjoying the literal nothingness of The Void. When his father discovers God’s latest plan, a thing called Earth, Satan relocates his family to this new planet, seeing plenty of potential for evil.
After meeting the glowing orb of light known as God (we know it’s God because, like all things at the beginning of creation, He wears a laminated name tag) and causing the planet’s first death (a foul-mouthed unicorn), Death quickly figures out what he’s meant to be doing, and gets to the task with gusto.
But as with most biographies, there has to be some tragedy to make the story worth listening to, right? Of course a woman is involved, a woman who loves dying more than anything else and whose spirit Death feels an incredible kinship with, spending as much time with her as he can before she’s off into The Void. It doesn’t make his feelings any easier to deal with when she keeps showing up in new bodies throughout time, either, and pretty soon he’s on the kind of downward spiral that only a woman can bring about.
Then of course there’s his addiction to Life that follows, the long ten days in which nothing in the world died, and the lost weekend with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Of which he was not one, believe it or not. No, the Fourth Horseman was Sunburn. He was a bit of a bitch.
Such is the humor throughout Pendle’s recounting of the life of Death and while at first it feels distinctly like someone trying to write like a combination of Douglas Adams and Christopher Moore, eventually Pendle does find his own unique voice that the book is told through and it works wonderfully.
Pendle does a good job of plotting out all the possible points in history during which Death would travel, too. The Roman and Greek Gods were in existence because the real God got sick of creation for a while and lent out his powers to the highest bidders, whom were also given the ability to create, hence the existence of Sphinxes and Griffons and Cyclops and such mythological creatures. Jesus was actually a power-hungry misanthrope who had people following him around making sure everything he said sounded powerful and hopeful, when all he really wanted was to stomp puny humans and wrestle. That sort of thing.
Death: A Life isn’t just humor, either. There’s a real heart to this book, despite the rather ridiculous premise. A message that life is pretty damn good and worth enjoying while you have it, especially considering that Heaven and Hell are nearly interchangeable due to overcrowding.
Pendle doesn’t try to cram his meaning or message down the readers throat, but weaves it in effortlessly to Death’s overall perspective on life which is, of course, inherently unique. Though there are some stumbling blocks along the way, Death: A Life flows well, especially once Pendle establishes his own voice and it’s just bizarre and fun enough that I’m sure horror fans will get a kick out of it, too. Always good to read about mass mutilation and horrific, torturous deaths with a wink and a smile, am I right?
4 out of 5
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