"Mort" is the fourth book in Terry Pratchett's hugely popular Discworld series. He has gone on to win the Carnegie Medal for "The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents" and was awarded the OBE in 1998.
Death - tall guy, somewhat underfed, big grin, carries a scythe - appears in more Discworld books than any other character. However, "Mort" is the first where his appearance in anything other than a very brief cameo - though, admittedly, he remains one of the book's support characters. The book's hero is Mort, the youngest son of a farming family living on the Ramtops. He doesn't quite have the look of a typical hero : although tall and overly-helpful, he's also red-haired, freckled and largely built from knees. His family specialises in distilling wine from reannual grapes - you plant the seed this year and harvest the grape last year. (With the wine, you tend to get the hangover the morning before and need to drink quite a lot to get over it). Mort's lack of talent in the agricultural field (boom boom !), however, is causing some concern for his father. Hoping someone will hire him as an apprentice, Lezek takes his son to the hiring fair at Sheepridge on Hogswatch Night. Although Mort is the last one hired, he is probably the most aptly named apprentice - given that his new boss is Death himself.
Despite Mort's initial discomfort with the position - he doesn't have to be dead himself and the bones look is entirely optional - he decides to accept the position. Death also makes it clear he doesn't do the killing himself - that's up to assassins and soldiers, for example - he just takes over when people die. (He has, however, been known to murder a curry). Life (if that's what you call it) with Death is very strange. His home is designed, unsurprisingly, in varying shades of dark and is much bigger on the inside than on the outside. He also has a daughter called Ysabell and a butler called Albert - both human and not just skeletons - and a horse called Binky. All are also very much alive. The problems start when Mort starts shadowing his new boss at work - specifically, when they are due to escort King Olerv of Sto-Lat into the afterlife. The King has just been assassinated by his ambitious cousin the Duke of Sto-Helit. Unfortunately, Princess Keli is next on the Duke's hitlist and Mort's youthful hormones aren't too happy about this. As soon as Mort starts interfering, other questions start coming to mind - like where does Death get a daughter and why does he need an apprentice ?
Despite his profession, Death is one of the funniest characters on the Discworld. Although it's the first book to give him a starring role, it may prove a slight advantage to have read one or two of the other books. (Rincewind is a particular hobby of Death's so "The Colour of Magic" and "The Light Fantastic may be worth looking into). Very highly recommended.