Home | Reviews | Blog | Daily | Glossary | Orrin's Stuff | Email

All the signs suggest that Charlie Huston is the next big thing. Besides a popular series about a vampire private eye and one about a down-and-out hit man, he's written a recent run of the Moon Knight comic book. And after all that pulp success this new novel, Mystic Arts, is getting a big publicity push and considerable media attention. This book is my personal introduction to him and it's easy to see what all the kerfuffle is about. As befits a genre author, his writing invokes memories of the noir master Jim Thompson but leavened with the humor of Charles Willeford and Donald E. Westlake, with the dialogue chops of Elmore Leonard thrown in to complete the package. Heady company, eh?

When the story opens, Webster Fillmore Goodhue seems like just another slacker, lazing about his friend Chev's tattoo parlor, engrossed in graphic horror film magazines, chasing away the trade with his cutting comments. Even Chev is tired of dealing with his sarcasm and threatening to toss him out of their apartment unless he at least comes up with some rent money. But the story takes a quick turn when Web goes to work for Po Sin, an enormous Chinese-American friend who has a company that cleans up crime scenes.

A recent Samuel L. Jackson/Ed Harris film, Cleaner, played this sort of story as straight noir and, sure enough, Web is soon involved in a convoluted plot involving a beautiful young woman he meets while scrubbing away signs of her father's suicide. Turns out she and her half brother are in some trouble because of his half-baked scheme to make some quick money to fund his nascent film-producing carrer. Suffice it to say that this plotline involves a truckload of almonds and a cold-blooded killer cowboy, who commits one murder with Chev's phone.

Meanwhile, Web gets caught in the middle of a burgeoning turf war between Po Sin and a crime scene cleaning rival. He also has to navigate his way between and around his hippie mother and his former screen-writer father, who's descended into alcoholic misanthropy after watching Hollywood butcher his great American novel and killing Chev's parents in a car accident.

But wait, there's more! While Web is initially a hard character to like--he's just too brutal and ungrateful to those around him who clearly love and want to help him--it is gradually revealed that there's a tragedy in his own past that has left him this disassociated. He's basically suffering from PTSD.

If that description doesn't lead you to expect the feel-good story of the year, it surely is a dark tale. But what Mr. Huston does with it is a wonder to behold and his artistry with gore and profanity is positively Tarantinoesque. It's not a book for the weak of stomach or the prude and you may not want to read on an empty stomach, but it is laugh out loud funny and hits its stride as Web starts to pull himself together. We're certain to see these characters again and I look forward to it.


Grade: (A-)


See also:

Charlie Huston Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Pulp Noir
    -FREE E-BOOKS: by Charlie Huston
    -EXCERPT: Chapter One of Mystic Arts
    -WIKIPEDIA: Charlie Huston
    -INTERVIEW: Charlie in Charge (Anthony Rainone, January Magazine)
    -INTERVIEW: with Charlie Huston (Paul Fuhr, Paradigm)
The name of your website is "pulp noir." What is it?

[...] A good noir story doesn't necessarily have to be a mystery. It will always have darkness of the soul, a morally ambiguous world, a world where everybody has a secret and has a price. It's hard when you try to transfer that into books. [Noir] is classically a film definition. Noir refers to a visual style as much as a context. It's "dark film." The traditions evolved out of these B-movie crime stories where they didn't have very much money to produce them. So they tended to have a lot of shadows. The good directors ended up coming up with a visual style that tried to capitalize on the lack of money, the lack of equipment, the lack of lighting. It became a signature of [noir].


The pulp aspect, for my writing, I've come to believe that pulp has less to do with trenchcoats and laser guns and swords and and loincloths. You know, these kind of trappings of classic pulp novels and pulp stories and pulp magazines. In the last couple of years, I've been on a schedule where I'm writing two genre novels a year (one in crime, one in horror) and also doing a comic book [Moon Knight ]. I'm working in classically pulpy territory here.

The aspect that I've come to think is related to pulp more than anything else is the speed with which you are required to work. The reason traditional pulp is looked down on, and so often is looked down on, is that it's classically paycheck writing. You're working on short deadlines, you're working for x number of cents a word. In order to make a living, you've gotta work fast, you've gotta hit your deadlines, and you have to produce a certain amount of quantity to pay the bills.

When I read classic pulp, I can I look at it and go, well, the writer really dropped the ball here with this plot point, this character is inconsistent, or the prose really faltered. This is an otherwise original genre writer indulging a lot of cliches, but what I've come to realize is that a lot of those things are classic symptoms of writing with velocity and writing on deadline. It encourages you to embrace cliches.

The pulp aspect really has a lot to do the economics of writing the genre on a certain timetable. You might want to take a week to revise a sentence. You might want to, after finishing a first draft, put it in a drawer and come back to it three months later with new eyes and really rework it. But writing true pulp on a true pulp schedule doesn't really allow that. There are times, looking back at my own work, when it's not necessarily that I didn't want try to do my best. There were just times where I made a decision about a character, a plot point, or a phrase that I used. And I got to a point later in the story where I realized the choices I made earlier got me in trouble, but I don't have time to go back. I don't have time to rewind fifty, six pages and rewrite fifty, six pages to take care of the ripples from the one big change.

That has a lot to do with what I think really defines pulp. It's a warts-and-all classification. That's part of what's beautiful, part of what's exciting about pulp. You have to write with a great deal of velocity and, with pulp, I think that shows up on the page: the intensity with which the writer is working shows up on the page when it's really clicking.

    -INTERVIEW: Interrogating Charlie Huston - Author of “Mystic Arts” (Professor Plum, 2/22/09, Crime Critics)
    -INTERVIEW: Charlie Huston (Rob Bedford, 2006-01-27, SFF World)
    -PODCAST: Charlie Huston is most recently the author of The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death (Bat Segundo Show #267, 2/27/09)
-PODCAST: Charlie Huston (The Bat Segundo Show #98.)
    -INTERVIEW: with Charlie Huston (Comic Book Resources, Mar 25, 2007)
    -INTERVIEW: An Interview With Charlie Huston, Author of The Shotgun Rule (Scott Butki, October 03, 2007, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of The Mystic Arts of Removing All Signs of Death by Charluie Huston (Patrick Anderson, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Rege Behe, Pittsburgh TRIBUNE-REVIEW)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Marilyn Stasio, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (JOY TIPPING / The Dallas Morning News)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Robin Vidimos Special to The Denver Post)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Signs ( Lindsey Losnedahl, Las Vegas Review-Journal)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Richard Rayner, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Bookmarks)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Professor Plum, CrimeCritics
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Lorri Amsden, Poisoned Fiction)
    -REVIEW: of Mystic Arts (Lynda Lippin, BlogCritics)
    -REVIEW: of Every Last Drop by Charlie Huston (SF Signal)
    -REVIEW: of Half the Blood of Brooklyn by Charlie Huston (2007) (Marc Bernardin, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of The Shotgun Rule by Charlie Huston (2007) (Ken Tucker. Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of No Dominion by Charlie Huston (2006) (Marc Bernardin, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of No Dominion ( Jennifer McCann, SF Site)
    -REVIEW: of Already Dead (Gilbert Cruz, Entertainment Weekly)
-REVIEW: of Six Bad Things by Charlie Huston (2005) (Tim Stack, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Caught Stealing by Charlie Huston (2004) (Chris Nashawaty, Entertainment Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Caught Stealing (Publisher's Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Caught Stealing (Anthony Rainone, January Magazine)
    -REVIEW ARCHIVES: Charlie Huston (Entertainment Weekly)

Book-related and General Links: