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The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death: A Novel Hardcover – January 13, 2009


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (January 13, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034550111X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345501110
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,200,349 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best of the Month, January 2009: If you love crime fiction--preferably wickedly profane, unabashedly grisly, and laugh-out-loud funny "pulp" fiction--your number one New Year's resolution needs to be to read Charlie Huston. It only takes one to get you so hooked you'll read everything you can get your hands on, so take a couple of days off and give yourself room to binge on the brutal and hilarious Hank Thompson and Joe Pitt series, the blistering Shotgun Rule, and this latest and greatest stand-alone, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. The best thing about reading a Huston novel is that you never see it coming--laughter, tears, the passing urge to vomit--everything is a surprise, creating a wholly unsettling and exciting reading experience. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death has all the makings of a perfect Charlie Huston novel--the down-but-not-out antihero, the outrageous supporting characters (each of whom deserves their own spin-off), the very bad situation involving money and violence, and the hilariously inappropriate dialogue that is Huston's signature--but with one surprising addition, hope. It does little good to break down the plot of a book this bizarre and brilliant. You're just going to have to trust us (and our Guest Reviewer, Stephen King), and read it. --Daphne Durham


Amazon Exclusive: Stephen King Reviews The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death

Stephen King is the author of too many bestselling books to name here, but some of our favorites include: Cell, The Stand, On Writing, The Shining, and his epic Dark Tower series. King also received the National Book Foundation 2003 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, has had many movies and television miniseries adapted from his novels, short stories, and screenplays, and is a regular columnist for Entertainment Weekly. Read King's review of Charlie Huston's The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death below.

For more from Charlie Huston, check out his "true stories about messes I've seen, helped clean up, and made" on Amazon's books blog, Omnivoracious.

There are some things you never wonder about until someone--usually someone whose mind lives on Weird Street--brings them to your attention. Who cuts the barber’s hair? How does a guy wind up with the job of test-smelling armpits for a deoderant company? Or de-wrinkling dress shoes before they’re put on sale? Why does one kid become a college dean while another grows up to be a key grip? And just what is a key grip, anyway?

Here’s another one. Who scrubs down the scene after a spectacularly messy death--a guy who shoots himself in the head, let’s say, or dies of natural causes in a hot back room and then goes undiscovered for a couple of weeks? What sort of janitorial problems would such work entail? It turns out there are firms that specialize in those problems, and in the Weird Street world of Charlie Huston, a couple of these companies might even do battle over the smelly, maggoty spoils of war.

“Trauma scene and waste cleaning is a growth industry,” remarks Po Sin, the owner/operator of Clean Team. The observation comes early in Charlie Huston’s terrific new novel, which is about just what the title suggests: getting rid of the messy stuff after the deal goes down.

When The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death opens, Webster Fillmore Goodhue--another in a long line of likeably slack Huston protagonists--is sponging off his friend Chev, who runs a sleazier-than-thou tattoo parlor. Enter the proprietor of Clean Team, who knows Web from Web’s previous life as an elementary school teacher (a career that ended badly). Po Sin needs help in his particular growth-industry. Web agrees to a little blood- and brain-scrubbing not because he particularly wants a job but because he’s suffered his own trauma and finds cleaning up other people’s end-of-life messes strangely soothing.

Enter Soledad, a beautiful young girl whose father just aired out his brains with a 9mm. Also enter Jaime, her half-bright half-brother who imagines himself a Hollywood playa but can’t get out of his own way. There are many things to love about Charlie Huston’s fiction--he’s a brilliant storyteller, and writes the best dialogue since George V. Higgins--but what pushes my personal happy-button is his morbid sense of humor and seemingly effortless ability to create scary/funny bad guys who make Beavis and Butthead look like Rhodes Scholars.

There are a lot of those in this book, and several I-can’t-believe-I-laughed-at-that scenes of grue (I can’t even talk about the pipe-bomb thing, not on a family website), but the best thing about Mystic Arts is how decency and heroism rise to the top in spite of everyone’s best efforts to crush them under heel.

Web wanders from the nightmarish underworld of body clean-up into the equally nightmarish worlds of hijacking and smuggling; he endures cross, double-cross, and triple-cross; he pees his pants while trying to shield his girlfriend from a bullet. He’s scared but never cowardly, down but never completely out. He is, in short, a guy worth watching.

So’s Charlie Huston. He’s written several very good books (including the Caught Stealing trilogy and the Joe Pitt novels, which concern a PI who’s also a vampire), but this is the first authentically great one, a runaway freight that feels like a combination of William Burroughs and James Ellroy. Mystic Arts is, however, fiercely original--very much its own thing.

Besides, admit it: you’ve always wanted to know how to get blood out of a deep-pile carpet.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Noir master Huston (The Shotgun Rule) should win himself a whole new audience with this bizarre and utterly grotesque stand-alone, told mostly through dialogue that highlights the author's uncanny ear for the spoken word. Former Los Angeles grade school teacher Web Goodhue, now a full-time slacker suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, falls into a job on a crime scene cleanup crew, scrubbing up the remains of the recently deceased. After the crew has finished cleaning up a messy suicide scene in Malibu, Web gets a phone call from the dead man's daughter, Soledad. She and her thug half-brother have another big mess on their hands that needs cleaning, on the QT. Unable to resist the beautiful Soledad, Web soon finds himself in way over his head. Huston, one of his generation's finest and hippest talents, shows in grisly detail what cleaning up after the dead entails. This one should appeal to Chuck Palahniuk fans as well as hard-boiled crime readers. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

More About the Author

Charlie Huston is the author of the bestsellers The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and The Shotgun Rule, as well as the Henry Thompson trilogy, the Joe Pitt casebooks, and several titles for Marvel Comics. He lives with his family in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

The characters were intriguing, the story engaging and the dialogue was great.
User friendly
It was just that the story moved too slowly for me and the dialogic between the characters was too wordy.
Cheryl Koch
This is the only book I have ever read that made me laugh, cry, and want to vomit!
Barry Orlov

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

93 of 108 people found the following review helpful By Dick Johnson VINE VOICE on January 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
If you've read Amazon's description and are still thinking of reading the book, then I'll tell you a few things the description didn't make 100% clear. If you remove the violence, gore, sex, and bad language you are left with a very short story. If this bothers you, quickly move your mouse and click on another book.

If you are still reading, then you need to know a little more about this book. You will be dragged into a world of people you never want to meet who do things you never want to know about. Along the way, you will be disturbed when you realize you actually like some of the characters and really disturbed by the scenes that brought a smile to your face (when no one was looking, of course).

If you like being shocked or grossed-out and amused at the same time, I cannot think of another book that fits the bill better than this. The ending even leaves the door open for more of the same.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful By TMStyles VINE VOICE on January 12, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I have read and reviewed all of Charlie Huston's novels and rated them all 5 stars (I think). "The Mystic Arts Of Erasing All Signs Of Death" was a less compelling read and presents a more difficult review for me.

As is often the case in a Charlie Huston production, there is a feckless antihero, Webster Goodhue, who is sponging off his lifelong friend Chev until told to get his act together or get out. He goes to work for Po Sin's "Clean Team", a post-death scrub and trauma cleanup team which also happens to be in a competition and war with another cleanup squad for territory and "turf". This gruesome profession, clearly hidden from the public consciousness, leads to some funny dark moments but that aspect soon proves short-lived.

Web soon finds himself caught up in a whirlpool of criminal activity that he seems powerless to control. He finds himself unwittingly involved in a high stakes highjacking and smuggling game that ultimately leaves a trail of corpses strung across the seedy underside of Los Angeles and its environs. There are outrageous supporting characters ranging from the truly inventive to the textbook stereotypes and, of course, there are double crosses galore. Web develops a conflicted love interest while dealing with a back story of an even more deeply conflicted relationship with his father.

All the elements of Huston's unique noirish style are present in this novel but they never seem to come together in a meaningful whole for me.
The novel is dark, gruesome, humorous at times, and propelled by gritty realistic dialogue. But the plot meanders pointlessly at times and doesn't pick up true focus until the second half of the book.
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22 of 30 people found the following review helpful By J. Stoner VINE VOICE on January 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I can't say that I am completely disappointed in Charlie Huston's latest book, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, but I can't say I enjoyed it, either.

Per typical Huston books, the characters are interesting and the dialogue is witty, sharp, and gritty. However, in this book, it was almost over the top and at times I was discouraged. The premise of the book is somewhat interesting, with cleaning up deaths, and opens the door for tremendous potential knowing the author is famous for noir based stories. Disappointingly enough, the plot stops there and nothing is advanced in terms of plot for the first half of the book. The first half of the book is just back and forth banter between the angry main character and the people he encounters.

When the plot does start to advance, it is not very interesting and hardly engaging. So much potential is squandered with the premise of this book. I would typically say "pass" on this book, but the dialogue and characters, while almost annoyingly "over the top," are redeeming in their own right. Fans of Huston will probably enjoy this book.

J.Stoner
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Michael P. Ferrari on March 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
When I first finished The Mystic Art of Erasing All Signs of Death--the first Charlie Huston book I ever read--the first thing I did was check out the Amazon reviews. Upon closing the book, I knew this was going to be one of those tomes that would divide both casual and hardcore readers alike. The reason for this isn't necessarily the content or the plot--a fun, foul-mouthed story about a disgruntled slacker with a past who finds himself working for a cleaning company that specializes in post-mortem pick-up--but the way the story is told.

The story of Huston's main character, a slacker/mooch by the name of Webb, starts off essentially in the middle of the novel, a common yet effective technique that this story takes full advantage of. Immediately, readers get a crash course about Webb through his terse, humorous and, most importantly, realistic way of speaking. We also get a feel for the nature of the story, as the mouthy yet malleable main character is being forced into a situation he doesn't understand that leaves him awkward and out of place. From the get go, readers will realize that they just began a fairly standard "anti-hero who's accidentally gotten himself in way over his head" kind of story that is packaged in profanity-filled newspaper as opposed to shiny wrapping paper. It's in the beginning chapter, readers will notice, that the narrative takes an interesting and unique approach: much of the story is told through the exchange of dialogue. While Webb offers up some first-person narrative throughout the story, much of the action is picked up between lines of dialog, a technique that, to me, seemed equal parts clever and gimmicky.

This brings me back to my main point: I have a feeling that Huston's very storytelling may alienate some readers.
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