With his teaching career derailed by tragedy and his slacker days numbered, Webster Fillmore Goodhue makes an unlikely move and joins Clean Team, charged with tidying up L.A.'s grisly crime scenes. For Web, it's a steady gig, and he soon finds himself sponging a Malibu suicide's brains from a bathroom mirror and flirting with the man's bereaved and beautiful daughter.
Then things get weird: The dead man's daughter asks a favor. Every cell in Web's brain tells him to turn her down, but something makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Soon enough it's Web who needs the help when gun-toting California cowboys start showing up on his doorstep. What's the deal? Is it something to do with what he cleaned up in that motel room in Carson? Or is it all about the brewing war between rival trauma cleaners? Web doesn't have a clue, but he'll need to get one if he's going to keep from getting his face kicked in. Again. And again. And again.
"There are many things to love about Charlie Huston's fiction-he's a brilliant storyteller, and writes the best dialogue since George V. Higgins-but what pushes my personal happy-button is his morbid sense of humor and seemingly effortless ability to create scary/funny bad guys who make Beavis and Butthead look like Rhodes Scholars. [Charlie Huston has] written several very good books, but this is the first authentically great one, a runaway freight that feels like a combination of William Burroughs and James Ellroy. Mystic Arts is, however, fiercely original-very much its own thing."--Stephen King
"Smoking-hot... scorchingly good dialogue and banner-worthy chapter headings (like "Till His Neighbors Smelled Him" and "To Keep Him From Crushing My Spine."). And Mr. Huston, whose own brain matter is as much on display as the stuff that gets spattered here, finally delivers a book that anyone can admire. No strong stomach required."--"New York Times"
December read of the month for the pulp fiction group I’m part of over on Goodreads. I have read Huston before; his Already Dead back in 2010, which I enjoyed.
Truth be told, I enjoyed this but probably not as much as Stephen King. Our protagonist, Web Goodhue is, for reasons which become obvious as the story develops a bit of a tool. Selfish, hurtful, feckless, shiftless.......not particularly likeable, as he does everything in his powers to alienate his friends and push the world away. Quite often, I can identify with the anti-hero or the outsider, as they have some redeeming qualities that evoke some level of empathy, but early on Huston made it hard for me.
As the book unfolds, Web provoked and cajoled, casts aside his lethargy and starts work as a Clean Team cleaner. His first job involves assisting with the clean-up of a Malibu gun suicide. His ennui shelved, he tries to help Soledad, the attractive daughter of the dead man when she calls him late at night.
The plot didn’t quite work for me. Soledad and her brother need a clean-up. Web obliges, though her half-brother is a bigger tool than him. Web and Soledad have sex, Soledad gets kidnapped and Web tries to broker a deal working in tandem with the brother, to get her back. All the while becoming a more likeable and sympathetic person, kinder and more thoughtful to friends, family and strangers.
His back story and complicated family history is revealed, which explains a lot about him. He is a far better person at the conclusion of the book than at the outset. He’s made a journey and exits feeling a lot more hopeful about life in general, in part due to his own efforts, but also those of his friends who refused to be pushed away.
Interesting, enjoyable, black, dark and funny as hell in places.......just didn’t have the indefinable X-factor for me though. Strange to say, but I have had books like this before that when read a second time around – Swierczynski’s The Wheelman – for example, ticked more boxes on the second ride. I kind of feel this would be one of those.....unfortunately, I doubt I will have the time for a re-read.
Overall a 4 from 5, teetered on a 3, but it did make me chuckle and it is Christmas, so a 4 then!
Plenty more Huston sitting on the pile of the vast unreads.
Acquired from Amazon UK, recently.