Mop Men is unlikely to be your first choice if you are standing in a bookshop looking for something light to read on your summer vacation. Its subject matter is death; in particular a company who cleans up after someone has committed suicide, murder or has had a fatal accident. The book should perhaps come with one of those old-fashioned warnings “not for those of a nervous disposition” as author Alan Emmins’ evocative descriptions of the sights and smells of the crime scenes he attends may lead the reader to feel rather queasy.
Crime Scene Cleaners Inc.
The main protagonist of the book is a man called Neal Smither, who runs a company called Crime Scene Cleaners Inc, based in the San Francisco Bay area. He drives a big black truck, with an advert for the company in large letters plastered all over it, and speaks with a Texan accent because he feels it sounds more “honest” than his native Californian accent.
Neal Smither got his idea for his company from watching the movie Pulp Fiction, in particular a scene where the John Travolta character blows the head off Marvin in the back of a car. The character called ‘The Wolf’, played by Harvey Keitel, is called in to clean up the mess. Neal Smither had been recently made redundant from a regular job in a bank but, watching that scene, he thought “Hey, I could do that!” He applied for all the licences, learnt all he could about the right way to clean up blood and gore and pestered the heck out of police chiefs and anyone else he thought could help him get the business off the ground. In time, business started picking up and now he has a company turning over a million dollars a year.
Alan Emmins is at first horrified by Neal, finds the crime scenes half horrific and half fascinating and is able to engage his reader in such a way that before long, you are engrossed in the story. How do you clean a load of blood and brain off a carpet? How can someone live in a house for nearly a month with his murder victim lying decomposing in a truly disgusting way in the bathroom (a story that is followed right from the discovery of the body through to the trial)? How do Neal and his team cope with the smells and sights that are a daily part of their job?
Perhaps the most poignant moment in the whole book is when an elderly woman is hit by a concrete truck after stepping out from between parked cars. The truck has no chance of stopping and all that is left of the woman is “the continual dashed line of the old lady’s remains, like the white line in the middle of the road only red and matted with hair and fabric.” And her heart, in the middle of the road. “The heart is intact. It is not squashed or torn. It doesn’t lie in or with other remains…It is the saddest thing I have ever seen.”
Not Just Blood and Gore
Fortunately for the reader, Emmins doesn’t just concentrate on death and gore but provides entertaining vignettes of his days and the times in which he is writing whilst waiting for Neal to call him to a death scene. Towards the end of the book, Alan Emmins writes “A few weeks ago, I’d have laughed at the suggestion that Neal might have something heroic about him, but know I am not so sure. With Neal you know that he will do what he says and say what he means.”
About the Author
Alan Emmins was born in 1974 in England but now lives in Copenhagen, Denmark. He is a freelance journalist who has written for The New York Post, The New York Daily News, Playboy and Time Out amongst others. He has written a book called “31 Days” about living rough on the streets of New York. Serialisation rights for “Mop Men” have been sold, so look out for the series on a TV near you soon.
Mop Men: California’s Crime Scene Cleaners” by Alan Emmins, published by Corvo Books: ISBN 0-9543255-4-0