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The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death: A Novel Hardcover – January 13, 2009
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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.)
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Top customer reviews
Web, the narrator, is damaged by the violence he's witnessed and for a good portion of the novel he's a PTSD'ed mess. But as he learns to look pain and suffering in the face without flinching, he also begins to put the pieces of his psyche back together. As Web's boss Po Sin tells him at a crucial juncture in the story: "If you don't stay in the room, you don't get to know what happens." Words to live by for those of us, like Web, who want to look away from the bad things happening around us but know in our hearts we can't.
Two Summer Reads: A Vulgar Masterpiece and a Slick SoCal Crime Thriller
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, by Charlie Huston
We all learned in school that when we read a novel we must suspend disbelief. Sometimes, to enjoy a work of art, we have to suspend disapproval. In this case, we have to suspend our disapproval of people who punctuate almost every utterance with one or more obscenities. Can you do it? If you can, and you have a ken for crime novels -- there's a little mystery here, but it's mostly a crime novel -- pick up this number.
The voice is that of Web, a wiseass slacker, but turns out Web wasn't always a guy who cleans up what's left of one after one passes over (or, frequently, in this novel, is unnaturally killed). He used to teach school; his father is a famous writer. Too much more than this I don't want to reveal, except to say that (1) the death-scene cleanup business is fiercely competitive, (2) his best friend, roommate, and sometime employer is a tattoo artist, and (3) things get immeasurably worse for him when he tries to accommodate a hot chick whose father has committed suicide. Seriously, who among us can't identify?
The particular brilliance of this fine novel is in the razor-sharp, and frequently hilarious dialogue. Doubtful that too many readers of this blog hang out with guys like Web, but we all know smartmouths who can hardly express themselves other than in ironic asides. It rings true.
And despite the gruesome subject matter, the text is not utterly drenched in blood. (See the next novel for that.) In fact, this is a real novel. The protagonist grows and changes, and we like it, because we care about him.
If you think you can get past the violence of the language (and violence to the language) and you have a natural affinity for the genre, this is one you should check out.
(Snippy continuity complaint: At one point, Web points out a constellation to the toxic hot chick. The constellation he points out is Corvus, the Crow, which is a rather obscure constellation and somewhat low in the sky when it appears, and I am doubtful that anyone could see it, much less identify it to someone who didn't know the night sky, from a moving car in the light-drenched Los Angeles night.)