Author Charlie Huston doesn’t seem capable of writing quiet or cautious fiction. Surprising would be the word I’d use when it comes to experiencing or explaining his work — and it’s a highly recommended one at that by my book blogger friends. Sick, and not for the squeamish, could well be on the warning label for his book covers (if publishers did that sort of thing). Hysterically funny should certainly be listed there, too. One should take note, perhaps as a warning to some, of the novelist’s marvelous and creative use of profanity in the dialogue of his characters (I think only filmmaker/writer Quentin Tarantino rivals him in the expletive arena). Like him or not, there’s no way you can ignore this man’s talent. Exciting and unexpected are terms which summarize my second foray into Huston territory (his Caught Stealing was the first).
Simply put, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death remains one of the best things I’ve read last year. Published in January 2009 as a standalone novel (no surprise if that changes), and a 2010 Edgar Award nominee, the author immediately grabbed me with the unlikeliest of prologues to begin a story. The synopsis from Publisher’s Weekly:
“Former Los Angeles grade school teacher Web Goodhue, now a full-time slacker suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, falls into a job on a crime scene cleanup crew, scrubbing up the remains of the recently deceased. After the crew has finished cleaning up a messy suicide scene in Malibu, Web gets a phone call from the dead man’s daughter, Soledad. She and her thug half-brother have another big mess on their hands that needs cleaning, on the QT. Unable to resist the beautiful Soledad, Web soon finds himself in way over his head.”
It was entirely too easy to become involved with the characters Charlie Huston put on the page — even those I’d never want to meet in real life by any stretch of the imagination. The author displays a unique and mind-blowing mix of humor and gruesome details along with a deft, noirish touch in the plotting of the story. It made me embrace some of the most jaw-dropping and unexpected situations conceivable. I guess I’m gullible for unpredictable writers like this one. As well, I’ve always appreciated an author who knows their way around this city (especially, if you live in Los Angeles). Huston skillfully steers his way around the basin, the canyons, and coast of the southland with his characters without one wrong turn (and with a chilling touch for the cold, hard aspects of the local landscape). The man can simply flat-out write.
The other facet that audiobook listeners will certainly be grateful for is that Blackstone Audio (in their almost 10-hour unabridged audio publication) again successfully paired an exceptional narrator to this uncommon material. The classically trained Paul Michael Garcia succeeded, impressively, in bringing every single character to distinct life with his reading. Given the range of characters in Huston’s book, that can’t be minimized. Garcia keenly nailed the novel’s smart-ass and emotionally scarred protagonist, Web. And, he moved effortlessly between the odd and rich personalities in the tale with his astonishing variety of voices, idioms, and tonal pitches. Previously, I thought MacLeod Andrews’ narration of Steve Hamilton’s The Lock Artist and Ron McLarty’s work on Don Winslow’s California Fire and Life were the best performances I’d heard in 2010. This amended that. I expanded that voice artist performance list to include this up-and-comer.
As you can tell by now, I very much recommend this novel and audiobook — along with this extraordinary author. BTW, I did warn you about the profanity, right? Note, there is one particular swear word the reader or listener of this novel should become completely cozy with early on. If you’re curious, I’ve left a poorly disguised clue to what that is in my first paragraph of this review. Unlike Charlie Huston, clever I’m not.
A sample of the work by Blackstone Audio is available on their The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death web page.