by Charlie Huston
(Ballantine, $25)

Charlie Huston is “one of the best-kept secrets in American fiction,” said Patrick Anderson in The Washington Post. First published only five years ago, the California native already has quietly cranked out nine “darkly hilarious” crime novels. But his latest raises the bar: It’s “a comic masterpiece.”

The book’s slacker hero, Web Goodhue, is a crime-scene mop-up man, said Janet Maslin in The New York Times. But he has barely commenced his education in the removal of blood pools and brain matter when his life becomes complicated by a new romance and the violent tactics of his boss’ chief business rival. Huston has great fun using a truckload of stolen almonds to ratchet up the stakes. Even so, he’s far less inventive in his plotting than in creating “scorchingly good” dialogue and vividly comic scenes.

He also mixes moods brilliantly, said Richard Rayner in the Los Angeles Times. Web is a broken man when we meet him, and Huston lets us discover for ourselves that “grief and the quest for family and friendship” are this novel’s true subjects. “The effect works,” even though it probably shouldn’t.