We’re big fans of books set in the afterlife, from the existential like Sandman and Fearscape to the more idiosyncratic like Afterlife Inc. The latest to join this motley group is Charles Raymond’s Death Inc. but will it be heavenly, or just stuck in purgatory?
Former telephone salesman Stanley ends up in the afterlife after an unfortunate incident with a bus. There he meets the Grim Reaper, who he soon learns his actually ‘a portly foreign fellow’ named Raul. And he’s not the only one. Death has outsourced his reaping duties to various souls with ‘knowledge and experience of death’ and they all work for him, at the aptly named Death Inc.
The first volume follows Stanley as he gets used to his new surroundings while the second volume opens up the story to become more of a comedy drama than an existential journey. Along the way Raymond introduces a fine supporting cast including Joey a reaper who goes on the run after a moral crisis, Clay Walker an afterlife PI, and also Raul the Reaper – who is hiding more than we first think.
Death Inc is a really fun read, despite it’s slightly maudlin subject matter. It has the quirky approach to the afterlife that we loved in things like The Good Place, and it has the kind of eclectic group of workplace based characters and humour that we love in books like Out Of Time. But it’s not all completely silly and Raymond underpins the goofy drunken karaoke nights with a whodunnit element in the second volume as characters begin to go missing and ultimately get murdered. All of which keep the reader on their toes and keeps you second guessing throughout.
Although this stops the book from feeling too trad, or too silly, it does occasionally feel like there are one or two ideas too many and things get a bit jumbled. A crime noir sub plot in book 2 jars with Stanley’s personal improvement as both use diary style 1st person narration which gets a bit muddled.
Visually both volumes look great, from the the strongly designed covers through to the artwork inside. Raymond does double duty here and his use of strong black backgrounds really complements the dark tone of the book. Especially the design of the reapers and Death himself, who is more detailed than the more simplistic other characters. Raymond’s hand drawn style is quite loose throughout and a bit ragged in places, but is also the kind of style we love as it feels very informal and is packed full of character and originality.It reminded us a bit of Steve Tillotsen’s work in Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure.
With a new volume coming soon, these first two volumes of Death Inc are quirky, smart and highly entertaining. The mix of styles keeps it from being too forumlaic and makes for a really cool version of the afterlife.