Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review of The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning by Hallgrimur Helgason (AmazonCrossing, 2008)

After serving in the Croatian Army in the 1990s, fighting a bloody battle with the Serbs, Tomislav Bokšić, more commonly known Toxic, has moved to New York, working as a hitman for the Croatian mafia.  Between the war and the contract killing he’s dispatched over one hundred and twenty people.  His flawless record of 66 contract hits is bought to an end when he erroneously shoots dead a FBI agent.  The plan is to fly back to Croatia on a false passport but JFK airport is crawling with agents.  Instead he jumps a TV evangelist, Father David Friendly, in the toilets, slips on the dog-collar and gets on a flight to Iceland, where Friendly is due to appear on a small born-again Christian television show.  Drawing on his childhood Catholic upbringing, Toxic manages to fool his hosts.  However, stuck on an island with no guns, no mafia, all but no murder, and surrounded by essentially good people who want to save his soul, he has the time and space to reflect on his violent past and his potential future.

At its heart The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning is a tale of redemption.  Toxic is a repulsive character - a cold blooded killer, a selfish liar, and a misogynist.  Through a combination of politically incorrect humour, pathos and flashbacks, Helgason tries to encourage the reader to empathise with him and his predicament.  It’s a tall order, especially when Toxic remembers some of the horrendous, bloody events in which he’s participated.  And just as you start to warm to him a little, a cold bucket of water is thrown from the page.  The result is an oddly compelling, disturbing, jarring and comic tale.  Indeed,  Helgason uses comic touches to good effect and I found myself laughing out loud several times, admittedly to some fairly black, gallows humour.  And whilst Toxic dominates the story, he’s surrounded by an interesting odd-ball cast.  As with just about everything else about the story, the plot is a little over-the-top.  That’s to be expected in what is essentially a screwball noir, but occasionally the plot devices are a little too much and the story teeters on the edge of ridiculousness.  In addition, the tale doesn’t quite have enough reflective and remorseful moments, Toxic seemingly unable to fully transform himself.  Overall, an entertaining romp and something of a page turner, but all the paradoxes didn’t quite add up. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I found the ending a bit flat as well. It simply seems to simply stop at with any lack of conclusion.