Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of DeathThe Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

"[...] the internal dynamics of a bomb in the rectal passage were such that the force of the explosion went straight up. [...] Thing went off, it scoured his viscera, guts, lungs, everything, shot them up through his head and out of the top of his skull. Like a fountain."

The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (2009) is my fourth book by Charlie Huston and a rather major disappointment. I rated his Six Bad Things with four and a half stars, which might have been my highest rating ever for a pure entertainment type of book. Its prequel, Caught Stealing was also outstanding . Not so A Dangerous Man - less than three stars - but it still was a good read. Alas The Mystic Arts is irreparably damaged by inane, asinine, and simply juvenile dialogues. This is hard to understand since the characters in this novel are about 30 years old: people that age do not talk like high-school sophomores in real life. What's even stranger, the trilogy mentioned above showed that Mr. Huston can write great dialogues, so I am at loss to explain what happened. Maybe the author has a 14-year-old son who was allowed to practice his writing skills?

The setup of the novel is quite ingenious: Webster (Web) Goodhue, the narrator of the story, an ex-elementary-school teacher who had quit as the result of a painful event, lives in Los Angeles with his childhood friend and gets by on money handouts from his divorced parents. He decides to take the job of a "trauma cleaner" and becomes a member of the crew that cleans scenes of murders, suicides, and other bloody events. Here's how a crew member explains the job: "[W]e clean blood and brains. We scrub shit. We vacuum maggot shells. We inhale gas from rotting corpses." The reader has a chance to accompany the crew to several trauma scenes and enjoy decay porn - the details of decomposing human bodies. In addition to handling putrefaction, Web also has emotional problems dealing with his parents. His mother, a free spirit and a New-Age freak, lives in a sort of commune in Oregon, while his father, a once successful Hollywood screenwriter, is a heavy alcoholic. Moreover, the sins of Web's father play a major role in the story.

The criminal plot involves beatings, murder, and kidnapping, and Web has to deal with an aspiring movie producer, an idiot on the scale way beyond the usual morons from Hollywood. All in all, the novel could provide some twisted and demented fun, were it not so damaged by the ridiculous dialogues. There is one truly funny theme in the novel - which is, incidentally, also the only realistic aspect - where the author satirizes Hollywood screenwriters; to avoid spoiling the reader's fun I will just mention that it involves the most successful past activity of Web's father - improving other writers' screenplays.

Other than that The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is a barely satisfactory thriller but certainly a tasty dish for fans of body decomposition.

Two stars.

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