Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Now That's Writing Style

So last week I read Charlie Huston's "The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death" and...

...let me preface this by saying, I'm learning to put some distance of a few days, before I comment about a book. That way the initial euphoria that I might have, can dissipate.

I still like this book, hell, I love it. Your mileage may vary. First, you have to love crime fiction and second, you have to have a strong stomach. Any casual readers will shriek and run like The Missus did at the altar, some seventeen years ago.

The protagonist cleans up death and crime scenes, and the scenes in the book are just a tad stronger than your typical CSI episode, rendered more vivid because Huston engages all of your senses (as opposed to just the video and audio of TV).

The jobs that Mike Rowe does on that Discovery Channel show are a very close second to the labors that protagonist endures, but the book's hero wins the "ugh, hells (sic) no!" competition, easily. Mind you, this isn't a book review, I just wanted to talk about the writing style that Charlie Huston uses, which forces you to really pay attention to the dialogue-

The guy with the fauxhawk showed me his blade, a slight crust of dry blood gummed at the hilt.

--Say that again? Say it. About to go Bruce Lee on your ass here, you keep talking about my moms.

I put my back to the door and shifted the carrier of cleaning gear so that I held it in front of me.

--Hey, no, all done, I'm not saying anything.

He took a step, twirled the knife.

--I fucking thought not, asshole.

--Did it hurt?

He stopped walking, the knife stopped twirling.


I spoke very slowly.

--When. You. Thought. Did it hurt? Like because you're not good at it, I mean.

That's it. No quotation marks and often no references as to just who is talking. It is annoying as hell at the beginning and some of the dialogue exchanges will not make sense unless you read it twice. The beauty of this method is that the dialogue is king and there's absolutely no way around this.

You have to re-read, you have to measure the words of each and every character, or you'll get lost like a GPS that has been hacked by your work rival. There's no speed reading with this book, there's no page skipping and I imagine, the manuscript must have burned out an editor...or five.


Paul Brazill said...

sound dead good.

Cormac Brown said...

Paulie Decibels,

Judging from the books that we like in common, I'd say that you should get yourself a copy.

pattinase (abbott) said...

One writer in a thousand could get away with this. I hear he's the one.

Gifted Typist said...

No quotation marks
Hmm, you are obsessed with this whole question of quotation marks and how they are deployed in modern prose, aren't you Cormac

You've been hooked up for 17 years.
Me too.


Pyzahn said...

Wow, a book that makes you pay attention, think, get involved... that's high praise. Yes?

Sounds quite intriguing...and the cover is also darn groovy.

Coaster Punchman said...

Unfortunately I fear I am not smart enough to read this book. Though I too believe that dialogue is king. Which would make you think I'd like Shakespeare better. Oh yeah, I'm borderline retarded. Duh.

Bubs said...

Can I judge this book by its cover? Because that is a COOL cover.

Cormac Brown said...


Excellent point.


I am a tad obsessed with these variations in punctuation and yes, I read about your wonderful wedding and am still quite jealous.


It's a very good cover and if I had not already read a good review for it, I would've have at least checked it out on the basis of the cover. Be forewarned however, it is not for the faint of heart.


Nonsense, you have an ear for dialogue. Another thing that I loved about this book is Huston's portrayal of Asians as normal every day people. He didn't roll out the usual stereotypes or try to make us seem superhman.


It's the cover of the year, in my opinion and not only that, the bright yellow makes it extremely easy to find in your home library or in a stack of clutter.

rebecca said...

No quotation marks and no references to who is speaking reminds me of Blindness by Jose Saramago. But, with his book, add to it that you have sentences that could go on for an entire page with very little, if no, punctuation! It takes some time to finally get into the groove of his style of writing but, once I did, it was too late. I stopped reading the book because I found it such a difficult story to read....very, very graphic, disturbing....

Cormac Brown said...


That's right, you were the one that mentioned a book like that and I believe that I said I would never take on such a project. One does have to have punctuation though, and this strikes me as a writer lashing out a past teacher or one of their parents.