I didn’t read any of the jacket copy before starting The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death, so all I knew about it to start was second-hand information that it had received a lukewarm response from Huston’s fans. And admittedly it was the first of the Huston novels I’ve read that didn’t snag me in the first two chapters.
The first few chapters and that foreknoweldge, in fact, gave me the impression that ths was going to be Huston’s misguided pander-to-the-fanbase book, like those Irving Welsh and Chuck Palahniuk novels I didn’t actually read, but always assumed from the reviews recapitulated themes from their breakthrough books while cranking up the gross-out quotient.
The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death does bear superficial resemblance to Caught Stealing, and it leads with basically all of the commonalities: like Caught Stealing‘s Hank Thompson, Web is a kinda naive but more-than-a-little-disaffected smartass with a complicated and somewhat dark past who gets involved way over his head with some rough stuff. And the first few pages make it plain that Huston’s lack of squeamishness is not at all diminished, while the sharp and salty dialogue seemed pushed almost to the point of parody. I was plenty willing to be onboard for a Hank Thompson retread, mind you, but steeled myself for disappointment after the more complex and satisfying The Shotgun Rule.
I needn’t have worried. Web turns out to be a very different sort of protagonist from Thompson, and the novel’s respective plots become much less similar as they progress. Like The Shotgun Rule, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death displays greater thematic depth than the Thompson books (while still delivering action a-plenty). Anything that seemed gratuitious about the opening was utlimately pretty well supported. And while it took The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death a few more pages to sink its hooks in me, they eventually went deep; I finished the novel in two sittings. Since finishing it, I’ve been trying to figure out if it is my new favorite Huston novel, or if I still like The Shotgun Rule a smidge better. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death didn’t have any 80’s music gaffes like The Shotgun Rule, but it did have a couple gristly lumps of exposition. Really, I think the two novels are a little too apples-and-oranges to make a clear call, so I’m declaring it a tie.
needs more demons? no. But Huston aficianados may be interested to note that this novel features past-tense narration and even a handful of literary devices like metaphors.