by Charlie Huston
Format: Hardback, 319 pages
Publisher: Ballatine Books
Cover Design: Christopher Sergio
Release Date: January 13, 2009
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is a new fiction thriller by author Charlie Huston, well known in SFF for his Joe Pitt novels. Webster Fillmore Goodhue is a lazy bum with no job and an acerbic attitude. When his only friend tells him his freeloading days are over, he takes a job as a trauma cleaner. Trauma cleaners are a largely unregulated industry that handles just about anything that needs to be cleaned up from a dog hit by a car to a decomposing packrat. Web quickly finds he is well suited to the work.
Web’s life changes when he and his team clean up after a suicide by handgun and he encounters the deceased’s bereaved daughter. They don’t exactly hit it off like a couple in a bar, but there is a certain something there. This is increased when she asks him for help in another cleanup and pulls him into the middle of a smuggling operation gone bad. The smugglers kidnap the girl and put both of their lives in jeopardy.
This is my first of Huston’s non-fantasy books I have read and while it’s quite good, it does seem a little familiar. Plotting, pacing, and style are all consistent with the author’s work. One thing Huston is good at it are gray, gritty characters. Web comes off as a super asshole that alienates everyone he meets. Frankly, I had a hard time identifying with the character, as he is very hard to like, though that is half the point. Web had a very traumatic moment prior to the events in the book and of course everyone reacts differently to tragedy. By the end of the book however, the character changes considerably and his evolution is handled quite well.
A good stand-alone book, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is not Huston’s best work, but it works well as an introduction to the author. Recommended.