A minor novella, but a fun one nonetheless, a comedic noir pastiche about a private dick investigating an unsolved murder: his own!
When the just-killed P.I. Richard Steele comes to he finds himself in an otherworldly waiting room. He’s quite nonplussed about his current status, as “Death was one of those intellectual issues, something poets debated in high school while they were busy not getting laid. Death was something that happened to the other guy, never to you.”
Ushered into the office of Miss Titanic, an afterlife social worker, Steele briefly meets up with his deceased wife Diana and learns he’s a “tweener” who can end up in either Heaven or Hell depending on how he conducts himself. He fills out an application to get into Heaven, or The Bright Place, Inc. Reaching The Bright Place, however, entails far more than mere paperwork: Steele will have to go back to the Earthly plain and solve his own murder, for the afterlife bureau’s records as well as his own peace of mind.
Steele’s ensuing adventures contain many noir standbys. There’s a gritty setting, specifically the skuzzy side of Los Angeles; a femme fatale, in the form of a hottie named Bailey who has some inside information on Steele’s murder (and who may be Diana reincarnated); a dangerous old flame, in the form of Diana’s unquiet spirit, who periodically turns up to taunt her ex; a redemptive love interest, in the form of Lee, another old flame (and the focus of Diana’s jealousy); and a cold-blooded killer, who with Bailey’s assistance murdered Steele and now has Lee in his sights.
Along the way Steele learns that being dead doesn’t exempt him from getting killed again (even by his own hand), and that true faith involves far more than merely believing in a higher power. Steele’s first person observations are suitably hard-boiled (“I’d discovered God has a great sense of humor, despite being a heartless bastard”) and sprinkled with quite a few jokes, many of them actually funny (“when you have no bones, the chill doesn’t bother you as much”). This is far from the best work of the talented Scott Nicholson, but as fast and witty entertainment it hits its mark.