I had never read any of Charlie Huston’s novels. I had heard of his devoted cult following and his inappropriate, dark, grisly humor - just my kind of author. But I had never actually picked up one of his books until “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.”
As the book opens we are introduced to our antihero protagonist, Webster. He used to be a teacher and all-around good guy but he’s a little down these days. We don’t know why but Webster is set on doing as little as possible with his life now. Then he gets offered a job - a job most people would never even think existed. Webster takes a job with a janitorial company that comes in after someone dies in a “messy” way. For some reason, cleaning up the horrible death of someone else makes Webster feel better about his own life.
Then he meets Soledad, the beautiful girl who’s father just shot himself in his bedroom, and her half-wit brother, Jamie. Jamie likes to think of himself as a player, but he isn’t really even close. From this meeting, Webster somehow manages to spiral from cleaning up death to hijacking and smuggling, all in a dark, hilarious way.
Huston has an imagination with which few can compete. His cast of characters - from Po Sin, the owner of the cleaning company to Chev, Webster best and only friend - stand out to the point that each could have a book of his own. Huston is funny, too, although not in your typical comedic way. His humor is in a very dark, “I can’t believe I’m laughing at that” way. I laughed out loud but probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable explaining to someone what about.
Even with all the darkness and death, Huston still manages to write a book that leaves you with a sense of hope. Somehow likeable Webster gets through his wild ride and comes out the other end better. Webster does some horrible things but deep down you can see he’s a good guy with a good heart. In fact, all the characters have a side that is good and compassionate to go along with the horribly immoral aspects of their personalities. In other words, they are all wonderfully complex and real.
One of the best things about this book was the shock value. One minute you’re laughing, the next your feeling emotional and touched and a few pages later you think you may throw up, and you never see it coming. I loved this book, mostly for the dark humor but also for the quick wit, great cast of characters and a completely imaginative, original plot.
If you don’t mind diving into the dark world of crime scene cleanup and enjoy a fast-paced funny plot, I highly recommend this book. “The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death” is profane and graphic, so you definitely have to have a dark sense of humor to enjoy it. And a strong stomach might help, too.
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