Friday, December 12, 2008

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

Webster Fillmore (for the venue, not the president) Goodhue is an elementary school teacher turned slacker. A class trip violently transformed into a wrong place at the wrong time scenario has rendered him more or less prostrate on the couch--in an apartment he can no longer afford to pay rent on or stock the fridge of--for the six hours a day he's not sleeping. His roommate and oldest friend, tattoo artist Chev, is tired of carrying him, especially since Web seems determined to win the title of asshole of the year. His mom sends him money from her berry farm in Oregon, when she can bat the pot fumes away long enough to remember. And his dad, the man from whom Web's trying to wrest the asshole of the year title, is a smug, smarter-than-thou, drunk.

So, when mutual friend Po Sin offers Web a job working for him cleaning up crime and death scenes, it's no wonder that Chev pushes him into taking the work. His first assignment: cleaning the apartment of a recently deceased man who had spent his last years hoarding his own shit (among other things--but why enumerate after that little bit of too-much info?) in baggies. Web hates it, but in a strange way he's hooked.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is certainly a thriller. There's a truckload of stolen goods, there's a kidnapping, there's a lot of killing. But really, Mystic Arts is a character study. Web Goodhue is one of the sorriest motherfuckers you would ever hope to meet. When he's able to stir himself from his torpor long enough to interact with people, he makes it a point to set the land speed record for being a dick. He alienates friends, family, and strangers with equal abandon. And yet, Huston is able to grow this character--without any hand of god epiphany bullshit--in an utterly believable way. By novel's end, Web Goodhue, while still a smartass and a bit of a dick, is a better man than when we began.

Charlie Huston is a truly amazing writer who deserves a wider audience than he has. He writes two series--the Joe Pitt casebooks, an urban fantasy series centered around the vampire clans in New York, which is ongoing, and the Henry Thompson Trilogy which, one would imagine from the title, is complete. I've read the Joe Pitt books and loved them, and have read--and was blown away by--Huston's other stand alone novel, The Shotgun Rule. Huston's dialog is choppy, often stream-of-consciousness, and utterly believable. His use of dashes to set off dialog rather than quotation marks serves to plunge the reader headlong into the minds of the speakers. His description, especially of the L.A. landscape, which is my landscape as well, is rich (and a little quirky).

But Charlie--take another look at Harbor City.

Now reading Beautiful Children by Charles Bock

Disclosure: In accordance with new FTC guidelines for bloggers I must let you know that I received a free review copy of this title.  My reviews are just that: reviews.  They are not endorsements, nor am I ever compensated for posting my opinion.  

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