Carl, our narrator is a reporter pursuing a story about crib death. He finds in a number of cases that the parents had read a particular lullaby to their babies prior to their deaths. It turns out that this rhyme is an ancient 'culling spell', and Carl finds he can use it to kill people at will, leaving no trace. The spell is also known to Helen Boyle, a realtor who specialises in repeatedly selling the same haunted houses. What they do with this lethal knowledge and how it changes their lives forms the bulk of the story.
The book is abuzz with ideas, every short chapter adding some lively new development to the mix. It comes to be about trying to find meaning in life, through the din of consumerist culture. (This chimes with my memory of themes in the movie Fight Club, based on another of Palahniuk's books.) It's funny, colourful, inventive, smart, sprinkled with interesting facts, and sometimes moving - though not for the faint-hearted. (Necrophilia anyone? Broken babies?) For all that, though I enjoyed and admired it, I wasn't gripped to the page.