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Friday, January 9, 2009

“The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” by Charlie Huston (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Order “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of DeathHERE
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Review of “The Shotgun Rule
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s
Review of the Joe Pitt Casebooks
Read Fantasy Book Critic’s Interview with Charlie Huston

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Charlie Huston is the author of the Henry Thompson trilogy which includes the Edgar-nominated “Six Bad Things”, the Joe Pitt Casebooks, and the Los Angeles Times bestseller, “The Shotgun Rule”. He also penned the recently relaunched Marvel comic book, Moon Knight. Upcoming releases include the fifth and final volume in the Joe Pitt series.

PLOT SUMMARY: Web Fillmore Goodhue is quite possibly the least likely person in Los Angeles County to be working with a crime scene clean-up crew. After all, he is a disaffected slacker with no ambition, thanks to a recently suffered traumatic event. But when his only friend in the world lets him know that his freeloading days are over, he finds himself in a pinch and joins Clean Team. Soon he’s sponging a Malibu suicide’s brains from a bathroom mirror, and flirting with the man’s bereaved and beautiful daughter.

Then this already screwed up situation gets weirder when the dead man’s daughter asks a favor. Her brother’s in need of somebody who can clean up a mess. Every cell in Web’s brain tells him to turn her down, but something makes him agree. Whatever it is, soon enough it’s Web who needs the help when he finds himself in way over his head, getting his face kicked in, facing down some gun-toting cowboy smugglers, and hanging on for dear life. Then things get even worse…

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 336 pages divided over a Prologue, Epilogue and chapters that feature such titles like “Pipe Bomb in the Ass” and “What Being a Dick Gets You”. Narration is in the first-person exclusively via the protagonist, Web Fillmore Goodhue. The novel is self-contained, but is the first volume in a proposed long-running crime series. “Something I could return to every year or two”, says Charlie. January 13, 2009 marks the North American Hardcover Publication of “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” via
Ballantine Books. Cover designed by Chris Sergio.

ANALYSIS: When it comes to reading a Charlie Huston novel, certain things are expected like scintillating dialogue, unique and memorable characters, over-the-top violence, humor with a nasty bite, vigorous pacing, and a wild story that is equal parts crime and pulp, and “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” is no exception.

Starting with the dialogue, it just doesn’t get much better than Charlie Huston. Full of sarcasm, wit, humor and vulgarity, Charlie’s dialogue is far and away the highlight of his books. This is notable because his books are mostly dialogue-driven, which in turn sets the tone for their dynamic pacing. What particularly impresses me is how Charlie is able to write dialogue that fits the personality of his characters. In this case, Web Fillmore Goodhue is the world’s biggest dick, but also a pansy. So he’s pretty much all talk, which is what gets him into trouble . . . and his ass getting kicked quite often. I also love the jousting that goes on between characters with the interactions between Web & Gabe, Web & Jamie, and Web and his father some of the book’s most entertaining moments:

“That’s OK. I understand you’re the reticent type. I just thought that since we were accessories in a few felonies together that you might warm up a little and share a couple biographical details. For the sake of conversation.”
“I make an observation here, Web?”
“Sure, but don’t go crazy. You’ve already spoke more in the last fifteen minutes than I thought was possible. Don’t want you to sprain your tongue or anything.”
He nodded. “No danger. No danger.”
“Good. Well, as long as you’re careful, what is it you’ve observed?”
“Some looks. A few silences.”
“Wow, man. Fascinating stuff.”
“It is. In its own way.”
“Uh-huh. Well. Thanks, Gabe. That was enlightening. Thanks for the observations.”

As far as characters go, the cast in “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” are a delightful bunch. Delightful in that the characters are incredibly eclectic and that everyone, no matter how major or minor a role they play, are outfitted with unique personalities and traits. For instance, Web’s mother is constantly high and still living like it’s the sixties, while his father is a former screenplay writer legend now turned legendary dick; Gabe is a quiet individual with a very disturbing sense of humor; Jamie is an “adult utterly unequipped to provide for themselves and emotionally cope with the world”; Po Sin’s wife is lacking for intimacy because of her challenged son; and the homeless couple down the street from Web & Chev’s place are constantly cussing each other out. Just to name a few.

But the star of the show is without a doubt, Web Fillmore Goodhue. At one time just a normal elementary school teacher, Web is now an ass who’s finally convinced to take a job—as part of a trauma team cleaning up after suicides, murders and other nasty jobs. But there’s a reason why Web is such a colossal dick. He’s suffering from severe post-traumatic disorder, so for all of his jackassery, Web is still a character that readers can care about and connect with. In fact, it’s quite inspiring to see Web come to terms with his problem and taking steps toward recovery, although in a twisted way because of the crazy events that lead him to that point.

Which brings me to the outrageous, yet totally entertaining plot behind “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death”. A plot that revolves around a profession that most people probably never think about and consists of trauma cleanup gang wars, smugglers, almonds, kidnapping and all sorts of other craziness. As to the book’s violence, “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” is not as brutal as other Charlie Huston novels with bodies flying everywhere, but has more of a Chuck Palahniuk-shock factor vibe going on because of the trauma cleanup angle. But even though the body count is significantly lower, “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” still has plenty of blood, gore and shit to go around, and is definitely not for the squeamish.

Once added all together, what you have in “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” is Charlie Huston at the top of his game . . . and one hell of a novel…

CONCLUSION: Since 2004, Charlie Huston has established himself as one of the best writers in crime/pulp fiction, and with “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death”, the author delivers another masterpiece. In fact, “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” is my favorite—and arguably the best—Charlie Huston novel thus far. So it goes without saying that if you’re a Charlie Huston fan, then “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” is a must read. And if you haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing a Charlie Huston novel, then do yourself a favor. Pick up a copy of “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” and prepare to be blown away…


ediFanoB said...

Great. One more good review of The Mystc Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.

On 7th of January Graeme posted his review.

First of all these cleaners are no fiction. please look at:

Fans of CSI and other series know this kind of job.

I never read a Charlie Houston novel before.
Greame's review convinced me to have a look at other Charlie Houston novels and to put THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH to my list.
Your review strengthens my decision.

That means both of you did a good job.

Robert said...

Thanks ediFanoB :) I wrote this review way back in November, so I'm sure there are already several reviews out there. I believe Blood of the Muse wrote one as well...

It's definitely my favorite Huston book so far. The Joe Pitt series is great, but has a slight horror/supernatural vibe to it, and is a bit episodic so it leaves the reader hanging, especially book four. The Shotgun Rule is cool too, but the characters aren't as compelling in my opinion. Whatever you decide to read first, I hope you enjoy it!

Btw, I've never watched CSI before...

daydream said...

Hey Robert, great review as always. I am somehwat fond of vulgarity and cynic outbursts. This is a sure add to the mix of books I will order from Amazon one day in the near distant future.

As far as CSI goes, watch the earlier seasons of Las Vegas and New York. Those were my favorites and I even got the idea that it would be kind of cool for an actual career, if I wasn't so stomach weak.

James Swezey said...

I like the various characters and how each of them have unique personalities. As a reader and a published author it is easier to connect with characters that appear to be real and less cookie-cutter. Often characters are written without much thought to who each one is as a singular individual rather than furthering the plot. I appreciate those who take the time to give their characters the extra bit of attention.

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