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


Read January 2017
 ★     ★     ★    ★


First there was ‘chick-lit.’ Then there was ‘hick-lit.’ I hereby dub a new sub-genre: dick-lit. No, it’s not about sex, porny-readers. I’m thinking of such books as The Goldfinch, Less Than Zero, Catcher In the Rye, and others whose titles escape me because it isn’t a genre I read and enjoy. Usually.

In the way that chick-lit is about women in their twenties finding their way, finding a job and finding a man (not necessarily in that order), dick-lit is about men in their twenties working out their lives, finding a job and finding a woman (usually in that order). In this particular sub-genre, they also tend to be unlikable during the process. Webster, the protagonist, has good reason to be unlikable. As the story comes together, the reader starts to understand, if not necessarily applaud, Web’s behavior and his travels on a sort of redemption arc. Of course, this is not the silly-girly redemption arc in chick-lit of An Entirely Different Awesome Person Embracing Change, but more like a 2.0 person, still with their dysfunctional history, still a fuck-up–just not as much of one.

“I closed my eyes for a moment, when I opened them it was gone. I looked down the street, knowing it must have just turned the corner, but unable to keep myself from thinking other thoughts. Thinking about the Flying Dutchman. Ghost ships. Haunted freighters, lost souls that manifest and dissolve, unbidden. Just the usual.”

Don’t read the blurb. It’s a disaster of a description that gives a lot of the development away, and gets details wrong to boot. The story is set around Webster, an adult who has been freeloading on his best and life-long friend, Chev. Narrative is from Web’s point of view, but because Web is focused on the here and now, explanations and mental digressions are in short supply. The reader is essentially dropped in on a teaser scene in a motel, and then returns to where the story begins with Web and Chet are squabbling like an old married couple. It becomes clear that Web is in immediate need of employment, so he takes a day-job cleaning up after messy deaths with their friend, Po Sin. In some ways it reads like a script, dialogue-heavy with little visual background. The one thing about Huston’s writing is that he is violently allergic to quotation marks (at least, I presume that’s the reason), so the structure may make or break your enjoyment of the book:

“I looked at the number.
–Caller unknown. Probably a customer. Let me get this for you.
–Do not pick that up.
I flipped the phone open.
–White Lightning Tattoo.
Chev jammed a hand in his pocket, going for his keys.
I nodded my head, phone at my ear, backing from the door.
–A string of barbed wire? Around your biceps? Yea, sure, we can do that.
Chev turned the key.
–Do not say another word.
I covered the mouthpiece with my hand.
–No, it’s cool, I can handle this.
He pushed the door open.
–Give me the phone.
I took my hand from the mouthpiece.
–Sure, sure we can do that wire around your arm. We can also tattoo lameass poser wannabe on your forehead.
Chev came at me, grabbing for the phone.
I held it over my head, screaming.
–Or how about you just get a unicorn on your hip so people will know what a real man you are!

What can I say? I liked it. I liked the feel of realness in the relationship between best friends, and in the dialogue between them. I like how the male friendship was portrayed with Chet as wells as with Po. I especially liked it when Web’s friends continued to hold him accountable. I liked gradually finding out about Web through his interactions, rather than being told. The work was kind of fascinating, giving a voyeuristic insight into messy deaths, and I really wouldn’t have minded more detail there. The humor was a little adolescent at time, punching and shoving and generally being sarcastic assholes. When Web encountered someone even more dickish than himself, I admit I laughed out loud a few times at the way Web talked to him.

There’s also a complicated crime-situation thing going on where Web unsurprisingly plays the clueless hero. Since the book was a nominee for both an Edgar and Anthony Award, I’ll assume it qualifies as a mystery, although there’s really a certain sort of screwball dark comedy to it.

By the way, thought the cover looks like a dead woman, I’m almost certain everyone who died in the book was male. Just sayin’, publishers.


About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
This entry was posted in Book reviews, Fiction, genre-bender and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston

  1. Karl says:

    Thank you for this review, I have been meaning to read this author for some time.

    • thebookgator says:

      I think you’d like it, Karl. Huston likes to describe himself as a ‘pulp’ writer. I don’t know if I believe it because I have a low tolerance for pulp conventions and I really enjoy his storytelling. In between the death scenes, there’s a lot of emotional truth.

  2. Pingback: Sleepless by Charlie Huston. Alas, no. | book reviews forevermore

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