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VINE VOICEon 16 March 2009
You have to know what you like to like Huston. Huston is, in my opinion one of the most outstandingly fresh and talented writers of quality working today. But he is a genre within the crime genre, for a rarefied market that appreciates wisecracking, foul mouthed and bloodspattered fiction.

Huston does humour like no one else in the straight crime field. His blistering and caustic characters are all too witty for their own good and the protagonist of 'Mystic Arts...' is no different. Web's mouth works overtime and gets him into all sorts of trouble. He is intelligent, bitingly so and yet, until we understand his backstory, appears something of a wastrel.

But Huston is also a fan of fairly extreme gore in his books and really lets rip with the graphic detail in this story of a Trauma Cleaner...and really, if you know this is the field the book is set in, don't read it and be surprised at extensive descriptions of blood, gray matter and other bodily and insectoid nastiness. The novel opens with a graphic description of a nipple piercing...i'm not squemish but i was curling my toes... but stick with it and the gold is there, once you wipe the gore off its shiny surface.

The story is solid, the characterisation great and the dialogue sublime (if you can cope with oodles of swearing, unconventional punctuation and occassional un-PCness). Web is an out of work teacher suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, resisting all help from his friends to climb out of the black hole of depression. Strange that salvation should come in the form of picking up other peoples suicidal remains then. But come it does, after turf wars amongst trauma cleaning professionals, kidnapping, vanjacking, illegal almond importation and several nasty fights. The story is fast paced and highly engaging.

Not as good as Huston's Hank Thompson trilogy (and really, what could be???)but better than the Shotgun Rule, read it, laugh aloud and squirm with squemishness in equal measure. Recommended.
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on 24 July 2009
I am a little disappointed Charlie Huston has not caught on a bit more in the UK. He is a brilliant pulp writer and his books are always an enjoyable, exciting and fast read.

I would though have to agree with the negative points from a previous reviewer. The action and suspense were not up to level with books like The Shotgun Rule and Caught Stealing. But that doesn't mean it isn't much better than the majority of what is going these days. It was tough to like the main character, Web, or anyone else really except for the big Po Sin.

While you wait for Huston's next - I fully recommend Josh Bazell's first book - Beat the Reaper. Fantastic book in the same vein.
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"Some of your brain, in order to keep you focused on things it needs you to do, like breathing and eating and such, builds little facades to place over the surface of the world ... And because that's what you perceive, the hyper reality you inhabit, it's the behavior of everyone around you that seems out of sync ...But some part of your brain knows it's a fake ... The gap between those two parts of the brain is dark and deep. Narrow, but wide enough by some inches to fall into and be lost." - Web, in THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH

Herein, Webster Fillmore Goodhue is a former elementary school teacher who dropped out after a gruesome experience aboard a school bus. Now, he crashes in an apartment with friend Chev and works in the latter's tattoo parlor sweeping the floor and running errands. When desperate for cash, Web usually hits on his divorced parents. Wishing to contribute more towards communal living expenses, Web signs on with a specialized cleaning company that mops up the messy remains after the cops have left scenes of murder and suicide. It's a surreal, yucky job, but somebody has to do it, and, as Web soon finds out, the competition between such cleaning companies is cutthroat.

As a literary "hero", Web does provide the reader with an edgy personality and cheeky dialogue. However, as an individual, he isn't a young man you'd want your daughter to bring home to meet Mom and the Old Man; he has unresolved issues. And the presence of any Englishmen aside, Web is akin to one of those perhaps mad dogs out in the midday sun on whom it's prudent to keep a wary eye.

THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH is worth four stars just for the dysfunctionality of the protagonist and the oddity of certain plot elements. However, the story is pretty much a one-off. I can't see author Charlie Huston giving Webster his own series as the novelty and appeal would, at least for me, drop off precipitously with second and subsequent helpings
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on 1 August 2012
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've already recommended it to friends and I'll be keeping an eye out for Huston's other books.
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on 1 September 2009
Chances are pretty good that if you are searching the reviews section of this book you already know something about it. Either you are familiar with other works by this author, or you've heard people talking about this book in particular, or you are interested in the genre, or you might even be interested in this specific subject matter. It doesn't matter how you got here, what matters is that you are investigating.

Webster Fillmore Goodhue, known as Web to everyone, is about as far from the hero type character as you can get. Probably because he cries when someone tries to twist his finger off, and he never comes out victorious when confronting the bad guys and when he does try to be heroic and save the day he is quite likely to loose control of his bladder. Sounds bad? Well, actually it isn't because Web is a completely human person and how would you or I react if we were in some of the situations Web encountered? The past year has been filled with despair and depression for Web. There is a trauma which took place in his life and his two coping mechanisms are total avoidance of living a normal life and sleeping. When even his best friend refuses to support him in his downward spiral any longer Web takes a day job with Po Sin, the owner of Clean Team. Whenever something happens to a human body which requires expert cleanup knowledge, Clean Team is one of those companies who goes in and makes everything sanitary once again. This was fascinating for me. The first case Web works on is that of an elderly man who had died among the items of his hoarding compulsion. He had piled so many things in the bathroom and in front of the door that he couldn't even use that room, obviously for a long, long time. Finally, the neighbors reported the smell to the authorities. The descriptions of this cleanup are gross, revolting and sickening and yet, full of information about how this process gets done. If you don't think you can handle that situation, then this book is not for you because it does actually get much worse.

Every character in this book is damaged or flawed in some way. The only exception may be Po Sin's wife Lei, but my jury is still out on that. The second cleanup job for Clean Team has Web meeting Soledad, the daughter of the reason for the cleanup. Web has such a terrible, sarcastic sense of humor that he is actually able to help Soledad as she is just beginning the process of dealing with the death of her father. After that meeting, the next time they meet she embroils Web in one painful or illegal incident after another.

I did enjoy this book even though I had been warned that the author tends to use vulgar and profane language. I can certainly concur with that statement now, but the saving grace is that the characters Charlie Huston has written about would have used that kind of language. It fits them and their situations. After a while I simply tuned it out and concentrated on the plot. And there is a very, very good plot to this story. Huston uses a totally unconventional method for dialogue. Instead of quotation marks to denote speech, there is a hyphen but no designation as to which character is speaking the words. A reader has to pay close attention to know who is speaking. Twice I had to go back and re-read in order to get it straight but I adapted very quickly to this style and it never bothered me again.

This type of book is not going to be enjoyed by everyone. I would have said that it was not a book for me at all and yet I took a chance with it and found myself completely immersed in Webster and the horror in his past. I wanted him to at least be able to function more normally in society. I think that this book ended in such a way as to leave the door open wide enough for an 18 wheeler to drive a sequel through. We'll see.
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on 13 July 2012
This was the first Charlie Huston book I read and I loved it. I have since read his entire bibliography, he's a great writer.

It's a dark and often humourous novel and it's a real page-turner. If you like crime fiction pick this up, you won't regret it. Also check out the Hank Thompson trilogy.
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on 30 January 2009
Overall, I didn't care for Huston's latest book, although it does have a couple of positives to its credit -- the premise of working on a crime scene clean up crew and all that it entails is gruesome yet interesting; and the dialogue Huston has his characters speak is often humorous and always gritty. However, for me, these positives were heavily outweighed by two primary negative factors I had with reading The Mystic Arts Of Erasing All Signs of Death, which ultimately, left me feeling dissatisfied and disappointed. The first of these negatives is that after an interesting first half of the book in which Huston establishes the premise for the heart of the plot, the second half is a lot of "yatter, yatter, yatter" between the characters with not enough excitement to sustain interest. As a result, I often found myself bored with the book and skimming through the pages. The second major negative is that the characters - and particularly the always angry principal character, Win Goodhue -- are too over-the top and too unlikable to really care about what happens to them. My recommendation is to skip this book unless you are a die-hard Charlie Huston fan that has to read everything he writes.
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