Monday, May 10, 2010

Review of The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston (Ballantine Books, 2009)

Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after his teaching career is derailed by tragedy, Webster Fillmore Goodhue (Web) has taken to major league slacking and pissing off everyone he meets, including his best friend, Chev, who runs a tattoo parlour and is keeping him afloat. Po Sin, the parent of a child he used teach, thinks that the only way to get Web back on track is to get him back to work, though working for Clean Team, a company that cleans up major trauma crime scenes hardly seems appropriate. But Web takes to the task surprisingly well. Whilst cleaning up the brains of a Malibu suicide, Web finds himself flirting with the man’s bereaved daughter, Soledad. Shortly after the daughter asks a favour. Despite the alarm bells ringing in his head, Web finds himself cleaning up a mess created by her half-deranged brother. Soon after Clean Team are involved in a dirty tricks war with a rival company and Web is drawn unwittingly into a smuggling operation. Life has just got a whole lot weird, but somehow the dark arts of trauma clear-up might just save Web from his grief.

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (TMAEASD) is a blast. I loved it from the first page to the last. Huston’s dialogue is to die for – highly realistic, pitch-perfect exchanges that are smart, funny and often poignant. The principal characters of Web, Chev, Soledad, Po Sin, and Gabe are well drawn and credible, and by the end of the book I felt I knew them pretty well. The story, whilst not for the faint hearted, is well paced and plotted, being multi-layered and textured, with a nice blend of subplots. And I now know a heck of a lot about how crime scenes are cleaned up! I don’t want to pre-judge my best reads of the year choices, but I’ll be pretty surprised if TMAEASD isn't on it. I’ve already recommended it to friends and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Huston’s other books.

3 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Rob - Thanks for this review. I admit, I'm not familiar with this one, but it sounds like that rare combination of an intriguing story with lots of action, and humor, too. That's not easy to achieve.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I was really thinking he would win the Edgar this year.

Rob Kitchin said...

Yeah, the John Hart book must be something special as this was one of the most original things I've read in the last year.