So, it wasn’t a good sign. No “quote marks.” Great. Another slacker novel. Supposed to be a mystery. WTF? But then, I don’t know, I totally got into it. Got into Web, the main character. His bizarro job, cleaning up death scenes. Murders. Accidents. Suicides. It was pretty graphic, really. Chunks. Gobbets. Brains and blood and plenty of dead people. And he was, as was so frequently pointed out by his coworkers, friends and family, an “asshole.”
Up for an Edgar, Charlie Huston’s The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is a deserving nominee. The surprisingly readable book is a mystery in that there’s a crime that requires unravelling as well as a couple of crime-related subplots. But the real thing that kept me reading was the ever-so-slow and sideways method Huston uses to reveal the essential tragedy of Webster Fillmore Goodhue’s life. Some time in the not so distant past, Web was an elementary school teacher. And he was with his kids, riding in one of those yellow school buses, when shots fired by one gang towards another went astray, killing one. She died in his arms. The trauma was deeply affecting, and this novel is not just a mystery, but a recounting of his reawakening.
Is he all better at the end of the book? Will he go back to teaching, more sensitive and even better than ever for the experience? No. He’s still afraid of buses – it’s white knuckles all the way. And, at least for now, he’s sticking with the clean-up business. It suits him.
So where does Huston’s book fall in my personal rating system of Edgar nominees? Although the mystery itself was not as compelling as some, Huston’s singular voice, compelling character, and skillful suspense puts the book at #3 out of the five read so far. Just one more Best Novel Nominee to go: The Odds by Kathleen George.