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Darkly Humorous and Gritty, Yet Strangely Unfulfilling
on January 12, 2009
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.
Most significantly for this reader was the fact that I never came to care one whit about any of the characters...there was nothing particularly endearing, redeeming, or alluring about the protagonist or any of the supporting characters. Putting the book down after finishing it was an "0h-it's-finished-finally" experience...I came away with no attachments for the characters and no desire to ever read about any of them again.
I will, however, recommend this work to Charlie Huston fans because, as I said earlier, it contains all the elements of the signature uniqueness that defines his work in the sub genre he seems to increasingly dominate. Even a mediocre Huston novel is a work of interest to many.