The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death Summary

Charles Huston


Charles Huston’s The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death: A Novel was published in 2009 by Ballantine Books.

The story begins with Webster Fillmore Goodhue as the chief protagonist. He is a former elementary school teacher who worked in Los Angeles. Webster, or "Web" as he is called throughout the novel, has been unemployed for a year and is living off of his friend, Chev, who is the owner of a tattoo parlor. Other characters include Po Sin (a Chinese American who becomes Web's coworker), Soledad (whose father committed suicide), and Jaime (Soledad’s half-brother). 

Web eventually finds work with the Clean Team—a company that cleans up after a trauma or crime, such as a murder or suicide—and encounters trouble from a competing company called Aftershock Trauma. While Web is cleaning up in Malibu after a suicide, he meets Soledad. They have an unsteady and uncomfortable romance. Web then meets Jaime and develops a twisted and chaotic life: Web is beat up, fights with his best friend, and starts a romantic relationship that affects him in ways he did not expect. With Soledad’s brother, Web is pulled into a scam involving a pair of ultra-violent cowboy thieves and a load of almonds. The story is based on these frequent shifts from one bizarre scene to another.

Hollywood’s dark side plays an important part in the story. Late in the novel, readers meet Web’s parents. Theodora is his mother. She grows and smokes marijuana and bakes pies in Oregon on her farm. L. L. Crows, Web’s father, was once a successful script doctor in Hollywood, but he now spends his days as an alcoholic alone in his home. Soledad’s mother was a prostitute who later appeared in pornographic movies.

Critics admire Huston’s grotesque novel and its finely tuned dialogue. However, the book contains much profanity and requires a strong stomach for episodes of extreme violence. Stephen King notes that Huston has written several very good books and that The Mystic Arts is an authentically great one. King also notes that Huston’s novel represents a combination of William Burroughs's and James Ellroy's work, while being an original story all its own.