The premise of Not On The List is pretty straightforward: the Nubian god of incense Dedun is killed in Madison, Wisconsin and not by Death. Death wants to know what happened so 2 Unseen private investigators are hired. They are Ed and Phil. At the same time, Jules Sallie has just been let go from his low-level corporate job (not his fault this time)and after getting drunk and then hanging out with a bunch of homeless guys, he ends up as an Unseen with no idea what’s going on. All he knows is that Willie the garbage troll and Earl the (talking) armadillo are with him. But they don’t really know what’s going on with him either. Eventually the 2 plot lines cross, and both mysteries are solved, first Jules’, then Dedun’s. And of course, the two problems are related.
Three other characters also play sizable roles: the Map Watchers Hal and Calvin, and Destiny (as in the goddess). Destiny gets roped into helping out and given her apparent past experiences with some of the other characters, unwillingly. It’s something to do with chickens that is never fully explained. The Map Watchers as the name suggests watch over the Unseen world with its many unusual inhabitants and quite a few gods and demigods via magic maps. They get involved early on when Hal and Calvin notice an anomaly on a map that needs investigating (it turns out that they were watching what was going on with Jules, but that doesn’t get figured out for about half the book).
There are a lot of minor characters in this story including the suspects and others who cross paths with the three groups. A disturbing number of deities are sex crazed, including Thor and Bast, which makes for some gross/ creepy moments. Santa Claus gets involved because in the off season, he’s one of the best bounty hunters you can find. Seamus the leprechaun gets involved when transportation is required. Two of my favorites are Mimir (a Norse god of wisdom who is only a head, and current de-facto Map librarian) and the lighting elemental summoned by Raijin (Japanese lightning God). By the end Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla (or their ghosts?) get involved to solve the final puzzle.
There are a lot of characters which sometimes makes it hard to remember who’s who. There is also a lot of switching back and forth in terms of narrative perspectives which at the beginning makes the story hard to follow. These two things combined make the first half of the book slow going, until paths cross and the narratives start to come together. When Jules goes back to the Egyptian underworld to explain to Dedun what happened, Dedun’s reaction sums up the whole book: “The whole story just seems so … ridiculous.” Jules’ response sums up the reason the book gets away with it: “It sort of is.” The eventual answers to both mysteries are just unexpected enough that they make for a really satisfying but at the same time eye rolling conclusion, in the way of several recent Dr Who episodes.
Besides not taking itself too seriously, the other reason the story mostly works is the oddball humor. A lot of jokes are repeated, sometimes ad nauseum as is the case of the running joke that is Calvin’s reaction every time another character knows who Dedun is. The other factor that throws the story off a little is that too many jokes are told or set up with a straight face and depend on the straight man (and there are many of these) to react accordingly. On the other hand, the consistency of the pattern makes the first part of the book when there are too many unfamiliar characters and lack of information about now what’s going on easier to follow. Overall, Not On The List is a mostly amusing supernatural mystery once you get used to the large cast and narrative style.