Friday, November 21, 2008

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

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death
Charlie Huston
Ballantine, Jan 2009, $25.00
ISBN 9780345501110

Web Goodhue burned out as an inner city elementary school teacher until he finally quit. Although still suffering from what the shrinks call post-traumatic stress disorder, the former Los Angeles teacher obtains work as a member of a crime scene cleanup team. He finds cleaning away the remains of dead people easier on his brain than teaching.

He and his crew clean up a particular nasty job in Malibu where the suicide splattered blood and guts are everywhere. Soon afterward, the dead man’s daughter Soledad calls him to ask if he would like to make some under the table loot cleaning up a mess she and her hooligan half-brother need serendipitously performed by a professional. Web agrees although he knows better than to do an unauthorized side job, but Soledad’s voice and later her beautiful body has the mentally fatigued man hypnotized with a need to live for the first time since teaching fatigued him to the breaking point. He will soon find himself wishing he stayed in the classroom as a burned out husk.

With a nod to crime scene cleaner writers like Wendy Roberts (see A Ghost Dusters), but more a darker Noir than most, Charlie Huston provides a twisting terrific tale of betrayal. Fascinatingly, the action is muted as the players discuss what they desire and what happened. This passive approach works as the reader increasingly anticipates doom; enhancing the Noir feel to the plot. THE MYSTIC ARTS OF ERASING ALL SIGNS OF DEATH is a unique refreshing look at crime especially those who clean up the mess afterward while asking who cleans up the cleaner’s mess.

Harriet Klausner

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