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What's the story?
Meg Finn's short life has been a mess. Her mother is dead, her stepfather abusive, and she has fallen in with the wrong people and turned petty delinquent. But when a burglary goes wrong she and Belch, the brutal moron who talked her into it, are killed. Belch, merged with his pet pit bull, goes straight to Hell, but Meg, whose good and bad deeds are perfectly balanced, is sent back to atone and tip the balance by helping the old man, Lowrie McCall, whom they tried to rob.
Lowrie is a dying old curmudgeon who has a list of things he wants to do before he dies, and it's Meg's job to help him succeed. But Beelzebub, on orders from the Devil, sends Belch, armed with a nasty computer chip in what's left of his brain, to make sure she fails. But even without his interference her trip may not get her through \"the Pearlies:\" almost everything Lowrie wants to do is illegal, and Meg still wants revenge on her stepfather.
Is it any good?
Eoin Colfer knows how to grab his readers: The first 10 pages contain a robbery, a pit bull attack, a shooting, and the death of the two main characters in a fiery explosion. And he knows how to hold them, with a combination of action, B-movie cliche, black humor, and gritty, muscular prose that hints at more violence than it actually reveals. It's no wonder he's the darling of the video-game generation. Reluctant readers and avid ones all enjoy his books, and with good reason.
Wicked is the key word here, in all its senses. It describes Colfer's humor, his no-kid-gloves approach to his readers, and, quite literally, the plot. He manages here a view of the afterlife that is cynically funny without being out-and-out blasphemous (and least to this reviewer) and makes a weird kind of sense to boot. While this book lacks anyone quite as funny as Foaly in the Artemis Fowl books, it makes up for it with a bit more heart -- nothing soppy, of course, this is a Eoin Colfer book after all, but just the hint of a warm glow in the testy developing relationship between a crusty old never-was and a hardened little never-will-be. Colfer may talk tough and mean to thrill his audience, but it's just possible he has a heart of mush.