'We're offering you an opportunity. We're taking you on as an apprentice, and we're giving you a week to prove yourself. If you succeed you become a fully-qualified Agent with all the benefits that guarantees: immortality, steady employment, freedom from boredom, and so on and so forth.'
'What if I fail?'
'You won't. You can't lose. If things don't work out, we'll just put you back. And you get to choose the manner of your own death.'
Hades is dead and the Agency needs a replacement, a new apprentice to carry on the good work. An emergency meeting is held, a resolution passed - the traditional method for selecting a new recruit will once again be used. When the coloured balls fall in the Unholy Tombola, who will be the lucky one?
72 18 9 11 12 13 49, a Code Four male aged 28 - no name, no family, no friends - is resting not-so-peacefully by the old chestnut tree in a corner of St Giles cemetery when Death, brandishing the Agency's standard contract, raps a bony knuckle on his coffin. The deal is this: over the next seven days he will act as Death's apprentice, helping him to bring about seven different deaths. If he copes with this task, the job will be his; if not, he can choose the manner of his own death. It couldn't be simpler.
In the Agency's suburban office, the apprentice meets War, Famine and Pestilence, all of whom now drive cars and use modern technology. But Death is bored - things aren't what they used to be - and over the week the newcomer witnesses some imaginative, not to say convoluted deaths. At the same time, the circumstances that led to his own death gradually filter back into his brain. And as he tingles with the memories and sensations of what it was like to be human, he stumbles over a contrivance that could change his future as well as his past. But in the face of eternity, is a week long enough for a nameless dead guy to beat the apocalypse's four world-weary car-drivers at their own game?
A gothic meditation on human frailty, death and the after-life, The Apprentice is a black comedy with a surreal edge that gives new meaning to a near death experience.