If you love crime fiction-preferably wickedly profane, unabashedly grisly, and laugh-out-loud funny "pulp" fiction-your number one New Year's resolution needs to be to read Charlie Huston. It only takes one to get you so hooked you'll read everything you can get your hands on, so take a couple of days off and give yourself room to binge on the brutal and hilarious Hank Thompson and Joe Pitt series, the blistering Shotgun Rule, and this latest and greatest stand-alone, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death. The best thing about reading a Huston novel is that you never see it coming-laughter, tears, the passing urge to vomit-everything is a surprise, creating a wholly unsettling and exciting reading experience. The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death has all the makings of a perfect Charlie Huston novel-the down-but-not-out antihero, the outrageous supporting characters (each of whom deserves their own spin-off), the very bad situation involving money and violence, and the hilariously inappropriate dialogue that is Huston's signature-but with one surprising addition, hope. It does little good to break down the plot of a book this bizarre and brilliant. You're just going to have to trust us (and our Guest Reviewer, Stephen King), and read it.
With a style that is razor sharp, an eye that never shies from the gritty details, and a taste for stories that simultaneously shock, disturb, and entertain, Charlie Huston is one of a kind. And The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is the type of story-swift, twisted, hilarious, somehow hopeful-that only he could dream up.
The fact is, whether it’s a dog hit by a train or an old lady who had a heart attack on the can, someone has to clean up the nasty mess. And that someone is Webster Fillmore Goodhue, who just may be the least likely person in Los Angeles County to hold down such a gig. With his teaching career derailed by tragedy, Web hasn’t done much for the last year except some heavy slacking. But when his only friend in the world lets him know that his freeloading days are over, and he tires of taking cash from his spaced-out mom and refuses to take any more from his embittered father, Web joins Clean Team-and 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. Her brother’s in need of somebody who can clean up a mess. Every cell in Web’s brain tells him to turn her down, but something else makes him hit the Harbor Freeway at midnight to help her however he can. Is it her laugh? Her desperate tone of voice? The chance that this might be history’s strangest booty call? Whatever it is, 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.
Full of black humor, stunning violence, singular characters, and neon dialogue, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death is classic Charlie Huston: a wild ride that’ll leave you breathless and shaken, grinning and begging for more.
Those stories you hear? The ones about things that only come out at night? Things that feed on blood, feed on us? Got news for you: they’re true. Only it’s not like the movies or old man Stoker’s storybook. It’s worse. Especially if you happen to be one of them. Just ask Joe Pitt.
There’s a shambler on the loose. Some fool who got himself infected with a flesh-eating bacteria is lurching around, trying to munch on folks’ brains. Joe hates shamblers, but he’s still the one who has to deal with them. That’s just the kind of life he has. Except afterlife might be better word.
From the Battery to the Bronx, and from river to river, Manhattan is crawling with Vampyres. Joe is one of them, and he’s not happy about it. Yeah, he gets to be stronger and faster than you, and he’s tough as nails and hard to kill. But spending his nights trying to score a pint of blood to feed the Vyrus that’s eating at him isn’t his idea of a good time. And Joe doesn’t make it any easier on himself. Going his own way, refusing to ally with the Clans that run the undead underside of Manhattan — it ain’t easy. It’s worse once he gets mixed up with the Coalition — the city’s most powerful Clan — and finds himself searching for a poor little rich girl who’s gone missing in Alphabet City.
Now the Coalition and the girl’s high-society parents are breathing down his neck, anarchist Vampyres are pushing him around, and a crazy Vampyre cult is stalking him. No time to complain, though. Got to find that girl and kill that shambler before the whip comes down. . and before the sun comes up.
From bestselling author Charlie Huston comes a novel about the fears that find us all during dark times and the courage and sacrifice that can save us in the face of unimaginable odds. Gripping, unnerving, exhilarating, and haunting, Sleepless is well worth staying up for.
What former philosophy student Parker Hass wanted was a better world. A world both just and safe for his wife and infant daughter. So he joined the LAPD and tried to make it that way. But the world changed. Struck by waves of chaos carried in on a tide of insomnia. A plague of sleeplessness.
Park can sleep, but he is wide awake. And as much as he wishes he was dreaming, his eyes are open. He has no choice but to see it all. That's his job. Working undercover as a drug dealer in a Los Angeles ruled in equal parts by martial law and insurgency, he's tasked with cutting off illegal trade in Dreamer, the only drug that can give the infected what they most crave: sleep.
After a year of lost leads and false trails, Park stumbles into the perilous shadows cast by the pharmaceuticals giant behind Dreamer. Somewhere in those shadows, at the nexus of disease and drugs and money, a secret is hiding. Drawn into the inner circle of a tech guru with a warped agenda and a special use for the sleepless themselves, Park thinks he knows what that secret might be.
To know for certain, he will have to go deeper into the restless world. His wife has become sleepless, and their daughter may soon share the same fate. For them, he will risk what they need most from him: his belief that justice must be served. Unknown to him, his choice ties all of their futures to the singularly deadly nature of an aging mercenary who stalks Park.
The deeper Park stumbles through the dark, the more he is convinced that it is obscuring the real world. Bring enough light and the shadows will retreat. Bring enough light and everyone will see themselves again. Bring enough light and he will find his way to the safe corner, the harbor he's promised his family. Whatever the cost to himself.
It is July 2010.
The future is coming.
Open your eyes.
The first stand-alone thriller by critically acclaimed author Charlie Huston, The Shotgun Rule is a raw tale of four teenage friends who go looking for a little trouble - and find it.
Blood spilled on the asphalt of this town long years gone has left a stain, and it's spreading.
Not that a thing like that matters to teenagers like George, Hector, Paul, and Andy. It's summer 1983 in a northern California suburb, and these working-class kids have been killing time the usual ways: ducking their parents, tinkering with their bikes, and racing around town getting high and boosting their neighbors' meds. Just another typical summer break in the burbs. Till Andy's bike is stolen by the town's legendary petty hoods, the Arroyo brothers. When the boys break into the Arroyos' place in search of the bike, they stumble across the brothers' private industry: a crank lab. Being the kind of kids who rarely know better, they do what comes naturally: they take a stash of crank to sell for quick cash. But doing so they unleash hidden rivalries and crimes, and the dark and secret past of their town and their families.
The spreading stain is drawing local drug lords, crooked cops, hard-riding bikers, and the brutal history of the boys' fathers in its wake.
NOBODY LIVES FOREVER. NOT EVEN A VAMPYRE.
Just ask Joe Pitt. After exposing the secret source of blood for half of Manhattan 's Vampyres, he's definitely a dead man walking. He's been a punching bag and a bullet magnet for every Vampyre Clan in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and the Bronx, not to mention a private eye, an enforcer, an exile, and a vigilante, but now he's just a target with legs.
For a year he's sloshed around the subway tunnels and sewers, tapping the veins of the lost, while above ground a Vampyre civil war threatens to drag the Clans into the sunlight once and for all. What's it gonna take to dig him up? Just the search for a missing girl who's carrying a baby that just might be the destiny of Vampyre-kind. Not that Joe cares all that much about destiny and such. What he cares about is that his ex-girl Evie wants him to take the gig. What's the risk? Another turn playing pigeon in a shooting gallery. What's the reward? Maybe one shot of his own. What's he aiming for? Nothing much. Just all the evil at the heart of his world.
“Among the new voices in twenty-first-century crime fiction, Charlie Huston . . . is where it's at.”
- The Washington Post
“Huston writes dialogue so combustible it could fuel a bus and characters crazy enough to take it on the road.”
- The New York Times Book Review
Reluctant hitman Henry Thompson has fallen on hard times. His grip on life is disintegrating, his pistol hand shaking, his body pinned to his living room couch by painkillers - and his boss, Russian mobster David Dolokhov, isn't happy about any of it. So Henry is surprised when he's handed a new assignment: keep tabs on a minor league baseball star named Miguel Arenas.
Henry has no pity for the slugger and the wicked gambling problem that got him in trouble, but he can't help liking the guy. After all, Henry used to be just like him: a natural-born ball player with a bright future. But hell, that was long ago. Before Henry did some guy a favor and ended up running for his life. Before his girlfriend and buddies got gunned down by someone on his tail. Before he agreed to buy his parents' safety with a life of violence.
And when Miguel gets drafted by the Mets and is sent to the Brooklyn Cyclones, Henry must head back to New York, back to the place where all his problems began - and where Henry might find a real reason to keep living, a reason that may just cost him his life.
“Huston reminds me of all my favorite writers - Pete Dexter, Robert Stone, Crumley. If there is such a thing as compassionate noir, Charlie has found it. He's a true marvel.”
- Ken Bruen, author of The Guards
“Charlie Huston is the real deal.”
- Peter Straub
Hank Thompson is living off the map in Mexico with a bagful of cash that the Russian mafia wants back and many, many secrets. So when a Russian backpacker shows up in town asking questions, Hank tries to play it cool. But he knows the jig is up when the backpacker mentions the money . . . and the family Hank left behind. Suddenly Hank's in a desperate race to get to his parents in California before anyone can harm them. Along the way he'll face Federales and Border Patrol, mafiosi and vigilantes, extortionists and drug dealers, and a couple of psychotic surf bums with an ax to grind. From the golden beaches of the Yucatán to the seedy strip clubs of Vegas, Charlie Huston opens a door to the squalid underworld of crime and corruption - and invites the reader to live it in the extreme.
" rocks and rolls from the first page. This is one mean, cols, slit-eyed mother of a book."
It's three thousand miles from the green fields of glory, where Henry “call me Hank” Thompson once played California baseball, to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where the tenements are old, the rents are high, and the drunks are dirty. But now Hank is here, working as a bartender and taking care of a cat named Bud who is surely going to get him killed.
It begins when Hank's neighbor, Russ, has to leave town in a rush and hands over Bud in a carrier. But it isn't until two Russians in tracksuits drag Hank over the bar at the joint where he works and beat him to a pulp that he starts to get the idea: Someone wants something from him. He just doesn't know what it is, where it is, or how to make them understand he doesn't have it.
Within twenty-four hours Hank is running over rooftops, swinging his old aluminum bat for the sweet spot of a guy's head, playing hide and seek with the NYPD, riding the subway with a dead man at his side, and counting a whole lot of cash on a concrete floor.
All because of two cowboys, two Russian mafia men, and some of the weirdest goons ever assembled in one place. All because of Bud. All because once, in another life, in another world, the only thing Hank wanted was to take third base—without getting caught.
"WOW! Brutal, visceral, violent, edgy and brilliant."
“One of the most remarkable prose stylists to emerge from the noir tradition in this century.” – Stephen King
Starred Review. Huston's third Joe Pitt vampire novel (after Already Dead and No Dominion) takes his Manhattan-based hard-boiled hero on a dangerous trip into the undead communities across the bridge in Brooklyn. The various vampire clans in New York are on the brink of conflict. Leadership has fallen apart, and to make things worse, a Van Helsing is running amok and has recently murdered a longtime supplier of contraband blood. Worst of all, Pitt's AIDS-stricken girlfriend, Evie, is in the hospital failing fast. Once again, he's faced with an almost classical dilemma: infecting her with the vampire virus will destroy the illness that's killing her, but she'll be a vampire. Sent to Brooklyn to meet with a rogue clan of carnival freak vampires, Pitt ends up battling a group of radical Jewish bloodsuckers called the lost tribe of Gibeah. As always, Huston's formidable writing chops are on full display: his action scenes are unparalleled in crime fiction and his dialogue is so hip and dead-on that Elmore Leonard should be getting nervous.
A review by Victoria Strauss
Joe Pitt's a Vampyre. He's been infected by a Vyrus that slows aging, imparts phenomenal strength and sensory abilities, and survives by feeding off its host's blood – which forces its host to go out and drink more blood so the Vyrus can survive. There's a whole Vampyre subculture in New York City, dominated by several powerful Clans – a hidden world of power and violence unsuspected by ordinary human beings. In this secret world, Joe's what's known as a Rogue. Though he was once an enforcer for the politically-minded Society, does occasional strong-arm work for the powerful Coalition, and is the object of periodic recruitment efforts by the mysterious Enclave, he has no fixed Clan alliance.
This can be a problem when the freelance jobs dry up, and there's no money to buy the packaged blood that keeps a Vampyre from prowling the streets and ripping people's throats out. To make matters worse, Joe's worried about his girlfriend Evie, whose HIV status is deteriorating and whose medical bills are mounting. Swallowing his pride, he goes to Terry Bird, leader of the Society, and asks for work. As it happens, Terry's got something that needs looking into. There's a growing drug problem in the Vampyre community, some really bad stuff that makes users go crazy – not easy to manage for those infected with the Vyrus, which is solicitous of its hosts and cleans drugs and alcohol out of their systems almost as fast as they go in. Terry asks Joe to find out who's dealing.
A little pressure on Joe's favorite snitch turns up a middleman: a trust fund kid in a downtown loft who calls himself the Count. The drug is in bags of fresh, Vyrus-infected blood. Drinking infected blood would kill a Vampyre – but the drug isn't consumed, it's injected. The Count doesn't know what the drug is or why it works, but he does know where it comes from: Uptown, above 110th Street, the area controlled by the Vampyre Clan known as the Hood. This is enemy turf. To reach it, Joe will have to cross Coalition territory, and he's not exactly on good terms with the Coalition either. But Hood thugs and Coalition enforcers turn out to be the least of his problems. A forgotten evil waits in an Uptown mansion, along with a deadly plot that could lead to war among the Clans – unless Joe can survive long enough to figure out who's pulling the strings.
Already Dead was gritty and hip, packed with exciting action yet carefully attentive to the nuances of character. No Dominion is even better. The plot is a nonstop, explosively gory thrill-ride whose twists and reversals deliver surprises right up until the end – a true page-turner, impossible to put down. The glimpses of Vampyre culture, a bizarre nighttime world invisible to those who walk in daylight, are both fascinating and chilling, and the vicious complexities of Vampyre politics, where the smallest alteration of the balance could tip the Clans into open conflict, have plenty of real-world resonance.
As before, Charlie Huston fills the book with memorable characters – from the bigoted, relentless Vampyre matriarch Maureen Vandewater, to DJ Grave Digga, the charismatic leader of the Hood, to Terry Bird, who combines a post-Woodstock cultural ethos with a Machiavellian mastery of double dealing, to the Count, an amoral Gen-X slacker whose home life is a series of satirical references to Dracula movies ("I hate that self-aware, ironic, pop culture Vampyre shit," Joe tells him at one point). Huston has an amazing ear for dialogue, and endows each of these characters with his or her own distinctive voice. As for Joe, a tough guy's tough guy whose profane, world-weary first-person narration anchors the story, he edges close to noir stereotype, but is saved from actually becoming stereotypical by his very human doubts, and his unflinching recognition of his own moral failings.
Huston doesn't neglect the meta-story. Once again, Joe must seek help from the secretive Enclave, which is founded on the belief that the Vyrus is a spiritual force that will ultimately produce a Vampyre savior. Joe's discoveries about the drug may reflect upon that spiritual quest, and also raise disturbing questions about the origins and history of Vampyre society. Hopefully, we'll learn more in the series' next installment. I can't wait.