Have you ever wondered who is called upon the clean up a mess created by a man who blew his head up? Ever thought about who the cops call up when they are done with a crime scene? The sort of thing you don't see on CSI when the time comes to get rid of all the blood and gore? Well, for some unfathomable reason, author Charlie Huston not only asked himself those questions but he elected to write an entire novel on the messy subject. Not sure if that speaks well of him or not, but what the heck, right!?!
When the folks at Ballantine Books asked me to consider reviewing The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, I was immediately intrigued by the premise. Charlie Huston made a name for himself with the Henry Thompson trilogy, the Joe Pitt casebooks, as well as his work on the Moon Knight comic book. This stand-alone was thus the perfect opportunity for me to sample his work.
The book follows the misadventures of Web, a former elementary school teacher who quit the profession following a traumatic event. Living off his only remaining friend, this lowrider and slacker extraordinaire is forced to accept a job as a trauma scene and waste cleaner to get out of debt. During a gig, Web meets a beatiful girl whose father just committed suicide by blowing his brains with a 9mm gun. Soon, he is drawn into the criminal underworld, and it's up to him to find a way to save the person who may or may not be his new girlfriend. And hopefully not die in the process. . .
There are quite a few particularly gruesome scenes in this book. Hence, reading the better part of this one during my lunch breaks at work wasn't the best idea I ever had. As Stephen King pointed out, Huston possesses a morbid sense of humor, and you'll surprise yourself by laughing at graphic scenes which should probably disturb you a bit.
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is a balls-to-the-wall noir crime novel that hits you like a powerful dose of LSD. Better buckle up, for Charlie Huston takes the reader on quite a rollercoaster ride in this one.
At times the book reads like a movie script. Indeed, it's the dialogue which infuses this novel with so much black humor and energy. The format keeps the pace crisp and you'll reach the end before you know it.
My favorite aspect of Huston's writing was his ability to create a cast of bizarre yet lovable losers who each have a lot more depth than you think. Although the author revels in shocking the readers and taking them on a wild ride with countless twists and turns, there is a subtle human side to his writing that always shows up when you least expect it.
If you are becoming jaded with whatever genre you are reading, Charlie Huston's The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death could be what the doctor ordered.
Just don't read it while eating, or else you're bound to lose your appetite!
The final verdict: 7.5/10