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Charlie Huston
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2009

Ballantine Books; Random House
US Hardcover
ISBN: 978-0-345-50111-0
$25.00; 319 pages
Publication Date: January 13, 2009
Date Reviewed: January 5, 2009

Index:  Mystery  Horror  General Fiction

If you liked Huston's Hank Thompson trilogy and/or his Joe Pitt vampire-detective series, you'll revel in this newest Huston, 'The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death' and its main character Web Goodhue. Goodhue is a Huston classic, a screwed-up guy who gets into an unfathomable situation; the story line is also characteristically Huston, fast-paced, wildly off-beat and often hilarious, and the prose is certainly vintage Huston, sharp, funny, with dialogue that's consistently clever while still ringing true. But the sum of the parts, the people, the plot and the prose, is most certainly Huston up graded, a sophisticated, complex and emotionally engaging novel that's not to be missed.

Goodhue, a former school teacher suffering from an earlier trauma, is in free-fall, no job, no money, sleeping his life away, being generally mean-spirited and obnoxious. When his one remaining friend tells him his free-loading days are over, Web goes to work on a crime-scene clean-up crew, scraping blood and guts off walls, rugs, and floors while fighting off maggots and roaches. While cleaning up after a particularly gross Malibu suicide, he meets Soledad, the suicide's daughter, who subsequently asks him to help her and her brother clean up yet another big mess in a Malibu hotel room in the wee hours of the morning. Web knows this means trouble and that he should decline (we certainly know it means trouble and that he should decline) but somehow he just can't turn down this woman. And thus unleashes all manner of hell, with gun-toting cowboys, shit-faced relatives, illegal contraband, revenge and retribution, and lots and lots of nasty violence, most aimed at a confused and conflicted Web who's just trying to hang in and figure out what's going on.

Huston's bad guys are both sincerely frightening — because they're so obviously unhinged and so inventively violent — and embarrassing funny –because they're so astonishingly stupid and unpredictable. He creates situations that are nothing short of outlandish, and describes them in vivid, cringe-inducing prose. But despite the somewhat loose connection to conventional reality, we lap them up with relish. We wince, squirm, hold our breath, and then burst out with a laugh, and probably feel a bit bad laughing at such brutal events. Huston tells his story in rapid-fire, expletive-laden dialogue, eschewing quotation marks, that's character-perfect — self-deprecating and witty from Web, one step above a grunt from some of the bad guys, and slyly sexy and sincere from Soledad.

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