Thursday, March 26, 2009

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

Wow. I've been reading Huston's stuff for some time now, both his regular mysteries and his Joe Pitt vampire casebooks, so when I learned he had a new book coming out, well, you know I put my name on it right away. And this one? Wow. It is good. Probably one of the best books he's written to date, which is saying quite a lot, seeing as how I'm a huge fan of Joe Pitt. Keep in mind, though, that Huston doesn't write happy touchy-feely works; these are gritty dramas with the some of the most dysfunctional characters you can find on the printed page.

Webster Fillmore Goodhue, slacker extraordinaire, is about to embark on a new career. Web used to be a grade-school teacher, but that career was ended by a senseless tragedy. Web has been slacking ever since, cutting people out of his life a little at a time with his sarcastic wit. OK, mostly alienating them due to his being a complete asshole. However, on this particular day, he's in need of a job, having just destroyed his only friend's cell phone. In order to keep his childhood friend (really, his only friend at this point) Chev from kicking him out of the apartment and leaving him homeless, Web agrees to do some work for Po Sin, the enormous Asian who picks up the hazardous waste from Chev's tattoo parlor on a weekly basis. Po Sin doesn't really let on to the type of work Web will be doing, just that he needs to be report for work early in the morning. Web informs him that he doesn't have any transportation, to which Po Sin tells him "Take the bus". Web can't or won't ride public transportation (you find out why later in a spectacular freak-out moment), so Po Sin sends his other employee, Gabe, to pick up Web before the sun has risen.

What's the job? Cleanup man. Big time cleanup, too; Po Sin owns Clean Team, one of the many crime scene cleanup crews in Los Angeles County. Web's first job? A suicide; guy blew his brains out and left the mess for his daughter to find. Enter Soledad, beautiful young thing that Web is a bit attracted to. Enter the next problem for Web - Soledad calls him later that night and asks him to a hotel room, saying she needs help. Yeah, does she ever. Turns out her worthless half-brother, Jamie, has cut someone in said hotel room and now there's a lot of blood that needs to disappear and fast. Web knows he's being pulled into some heavy stuff, but he does it anyway. And puts himself right in the middle of a smuggling operation gone wrong. Not to mention the turf war between his boss and Morton, another crime scene cleanup guy.

This is definitely Huston at his best. The writing is crisp, the characters are well-developed if not entirely likable at times, and the action is non-stop. Web gets the snot beat out of him on a fairly regular basis, and is in the dark most of the book as to why said snot is being beaten out of him. This is one of the few books of Huston's, though, where I felt the twinge of a happy ending, which was kind of nice. Granted, it's not all sunshine and rainbows, but I liked it. Huston is one of the best authors of modern crime noir out there, and I highly recommend his work.

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