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.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Huston's darkly comic slice of Southern California noir is filled with distinctive characters that leap from the page and, thanks to Paul Michael Garcia's remarkable versatility, speak in equally arresting voices. Chief among them is Web Goodhue, the novel's narrator, a slacker forced by circumstance into temp work with a crew that mops up messy postmortem residue. Just as Huston makes the outwardly obnoxious and brutally snarky protagonist sympathetic, Garcia layers self-doubt, sensitivity and intelligence beneath the arrogance and an overriding humanity that Web attempts to mask with his misanthropic (often very funny) remarks. The other characters are equally well matched vocally: Web's father speaks with the boozy rasp of a self-loathing alcoholic; Po Sin, the massive boss of the Clean Team, has a deep and rumbling delivery; and femme fatale Solidad tries to hide her naïveté behind hard-boiled banter. Throw in a gallery of motor mouth crazies, flat-voiced killers and Web's amazingly tolerant best friend Chev, and you have a thrilling and smartly enacted audio package. A Ballantine hardcover (Reviews, Nov. 10). (Jan.)
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