The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death

October 17, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Web Goodhue is an ex-teacher turned slacker who lives and hangs out with best buddy Chev. It’s clear from other characters’ dialogue that Web has been through a highly traumatic event and probably suffers from some form of PTSD, but the author takes his sweet time revealing what happened. Meanwhile, Web establishes himself as a wise-cracking jerk, making the reader wonder why the people in his life put up with him.

After causing some damage to Chev’s property, Web feels compelled to take a job in order to pay off his debt. Enter Po Sin, the man who hauls biological waste from Chev’s tattoo parlor. Po Sin’s company also does crime scene cleanup, and there’s an opening for Web if he wants it. Web does.

Web is somewhat fascinated by the first few scenes he goes to, and describes them in great detail. It turns out that he actually enjoys the work. There’s something about getting to scrub everything down and remove human waste matter that appeals to him. He even picks up a girl on one of the early jobs. This is Soledad, whose father has just committed suicide. She seems as messed up as Web, making them a pretty good match.

The plotline then veers away from the crime scene cleanup stuff into some complicated heist of a trucking container filled with almonds. Soledad’s half-brother Jaime somehow got mixed up in that, and when the truck didn’t arrive on time, his partners kidnap Soledad and hold her hostage to ensure delivery of the almonds. Soledad calls Web for help, and he for some reason agrees. He hooks up with Jaime and for the rest of the novel they try to figure out what’s going on with the almond shipment so they can rescue Soledad.

Liked:

  • This book started out well. The premise was intriguing, and the crime scene stuff was actually fairly interesting. Yes, some of Web’s descriptions were over the top in the gross-out department, but what can you expect from a crime scene?
  • The dynamic between Web and Chev was an interesting one. I thought the insights into their friendship were very good, and wish more time could have been spent on showing the two of them together.

Disliked:

  • The writing style got old fairly quickly. Apparently this author doesn’t believe in using conventional punctuation, so good luck trying to find any quotation marks in this book — even though it’s filled with dialogue. Similarly, half-formed sentences by the characters were written this way: –It’s just. You know. I called you but. I guess I’m not sure. What I want to say. Ugh, it gets pretty exhausting trying to decipher that stuff after a while.
  • As I said, the book started out great, but as soon as the almond hijacking came into play, things went downhill. The second half of the story was very short on action and long on talking. It was very boring, and made it difficult for me to even finish the book.
  • The scenes with LL were kind of pointless. I guess they served to provide a bit of background for Web and Chev’s friendship, but that could have been done through the two characters themselves rather than through this third party. All LL did was establish himself as a prime candidate for acetyl carnitine to try to preserve a few brain cells from alcohol damage.
  • None of the characters were likable. Web in particular was annoying as hell, so it was hard to stick with him for the whole ride.

Rating:

I have to say I wasn’t very impressed by The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death by Charlie Huston. From the unconventional grammar to the unlikable characters and unlikely plotline of hijacking an almond shipment, there was little to actually appreciate. I don’t think I’ll be reading anything else from this author, and give this book 2 stars out of 5.

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