Saturday, January 17, 2009

Charlie Huston's "The Mystic Arts..."

I've been a Charlie Huston fan since I picked up "Caught Stealing," the first volume of the Hank Thompson Trilogy. (The other books are "Six Bad Things" and "A Dangerous Man.") I was impressed most by their immediacy, the way Huston lets the characters' weaknesses and bad decisions cascade ever closer to disaster. Hank's adventures are harrowing, profane, tragic and funny, well worth the time of anyone who enjoy crime fiction.

I am less enamored of Huston's work on the Joe Pitt vampire detective novels. I reviewed the first for The Chronicle and never felt a need to seek out the others. Their central conceit is clever enough, but the series really doesn't give me anything I can't find elsewhere. Huston's first stand-alone novel was 2007's "The Shotgun Rule," and it shared an approach and viewpoint similar to the Thompson Trilogy. I thought it rocked.

Now Huston gives us "The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death," and it looks as if it may be his breakout book. (The blurb from Stephen King can't hurt.)

"Mystic Arts…" is narrated by Webster Fillmore Goodhue, a former teacher traumatized into slackerhood. Desperate for cash, he reluctantly joins trauma specialists Clean Team and begins to learn the trade of mopping up after people who have died messily. His first gig leads to an after-hours job in a hotel room for a suicide's pretty daughter, and everything begins to spiral out of control from there.

Over at John Scalzi's Whatever, Huston writes about the origins of his new novel and confirms some of the suspicions I had about the book. I hadn't picked up on its debt to "The Rockford Files" (which is clear once you've been tipped to it), but I'm glad to hear that Huston regards this as the first of a new series. It's fast, funny and bracing, similar to "Caught Stealing" but with a much more positive vibe.

If you haven't read Huston, this is the perfect place to start.

No comments: