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

This isn’t a typical read for me, but it’s an enjoyable one for those who enjoy this type of book. If you enjoy British village cozies, you aren’t going to like it, but if you like tough guy modern noir you’ll probably love it. It’s certainly original – Huston goes so far as not to use quotation marks, and he writes dialogue as it’s actually spoken which sometimes is a bit distracting. While he’s taken the artistic step of dispensing with quotes, he’s then stuck to hyper realism in the way the words are spoken. It’s an odd dichotomy.

What’s good about this book is the central character, Web, who is recovering from a traumatic experience (one that’s unknown until about half way through the book). As is often the case with people under stress, Web is believably distracted and selfish. Since as readers we are encountering him cold, without knowing his backstory, we pick up on the selfish ass part of him before his actual character begins to manifest itself. This is also an interesting tactic, as you come to know Web much as you might come to know him if he was a real person you were meeting in real life.

The real message of this book may be that everyone deserves a second chance, and that’s a message I can embrace wholeheartedly. The noir path the story takes to get to this message finds Web out of work, hanging out in his pal Chev’s tattoo parlor, and agreeing to work for their mutual friend, Po Sin, who runs a crisis cleanup business. He cleans up, basically, after dead people, often suicides. The details of this clean up business are not left to the imagination, so it’s not for you at all if you have a weak stomach.

There are a number of very memorable characters, including Web himself; Soledad, whose father has just killed himself; her jerky brother Jaime; Web’s father L.L.; and Po Sin and his family, who I think I liked best. Of all the people in the book, they were the ones I wanted to find out more about. This book garnered several award nominations last year and it’s the very kind of dark, noirish read that seems to appeal to Edgar voters these days. It’s certainly original, sometimes funny, and sometimes even profound, but it’s hardly a mystery, though it is centered around a crime. The problem is that the central crime isn’t very interesting, it’s the characters that hold the book together. That said, I enjoyed this read outside of my “comfort zone.”