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

3.8 out of 5 stars 172 customer reviews

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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.)
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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 (172 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,544,519 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Tanstaafl 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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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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I like Charlie Huston in general. "The Shotgun Rule" was great, as are his Joe Pitt books and the "Stealing Home" trilogy. But. This novel seems like it was generated after reading too much David Mamet. The dialogue. Is. Is just. Like. Well. It reads. It just reads. It. I mean, it could. It could sound like a. A transcript. Of how people talk. If they were. In, you know. Glengarry Glen Ross. Or. Or had a speech impediment. AAH! Maddening. Huston has always had a nice flair for dialogue, but this time it's too studied, too overboard, too mannered. It gets in the way of the plot. Also, the characters never really touched me. The main character is troubled by a traumatic event in his past. It takes forever to flesh it out. And then I was like, "Ok, I figured that one early on. That's it?" Also, the "denouement"-- if you will-- drags on and on. Probably felt like that because I couldn't care less about the main character's relationships. Overall, I probably should've gotten this one from the library, and not spent money on it.
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This is my fave Charlie Huston novel. It has all of the clever dialogue and driving pace I expect from Huston, along with graphic violence (or descriptions of the aftermath of violence) used in just the right places to intensify emotions without going over the top. But it also has a quite profound message about what it means to be human in a sometimes cruel and often senseless world.

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.
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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.

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