Thursday, December 6, 2012

Book Review: The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston (2008)

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

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Ranked #9 on my Top 10 Reads in 2012

With his teaching career derailed by tragedy and his slacker days numbered, Webster Fillmore Goodhue makes an unlikely move and joins Clean Team, charged with tidying up L.A.'s grisly crime scenes. For Web, it's a steady gig, and he soon finds himself sponging a Malibu suicide's brains from a bathroom mirror and flirting with the man's bereaved and beautiful daughter.

Then things get weird: The dead man's daughter asks a favor. Every cell in Web's brain tells him to turn her down, but something makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Soon enough it's Web who needs the help when gun-toting California cowboys start showing up on his doorstep. What's the deal? Is it something to do with what he cleaned up in that motel room in Carson? Or is it all about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web doesn't have a clue, but he'll need to get one if he's going to keep from getting his face kicked in. Again. And again. And again

Thoughts: This book is fantastic. I was blown away from the start and didn't want to stop reading until I'd gotten to the end. It transcends genres and categorisation but in the end I'd say it was literature because of the over-arching story of how one man deals with an horrific event that happened in his past.

The character of Web is so real, his voice addictive and funny and his adventure in to the world of crime scene cleanup is a highly entertaining surface for the emotional journey he takes. But it is not just Web that is well written it is everyone in the ragtag bunch of people he comes in to contact with thanks to his new job. Guys, girls, they all have a purpose for the story but they also are rounded and true with unique voices in addition to that purpose.

There are some really grizzly no holds barred descriptive passages of violence and crime scenes; one early on was so vividly described I felt as if the stench was on the air and forced my imagination to calm down before it made me vomit.

And it really is funny, so many laugh out loud moments that seemed in tune with that excellent TV show Archer, and it's not vulgar or in poor taste, the jokes are not at the expense of victims of crime as it might have been easy to do, the humour comes from the honest human reactions and interactions.

I can't sing this books praises highly enough, well worth the read, one of the most enjoyable books I've read in the last 12 months, right up there with the very excellent and in some ways similar Savages.

HBO developed a pilot based on this book but it never got aired or picked up, I find this slightly disappointing as obviously it has a lot of potential for recurring characters and long running storylines in the world of crime scene cleanup. Think The Sopranos meets Sunshine Cleaning.

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