The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning

Author: Hallgrímur Helgason

Why did I read it?  “The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning” appeared on a list of items available for review and the synopsis provided sounded interesting, made more interesting by the fact it was the author’s first book in English, his own translation no less.   I was foolish, however, and chose another book in it’s stead.

Synopsis:  Tomislav Bokšić is a New York resident, Croatian-born hitman with 60 odd successful jobs, who is very comfortable with his work, and his girlfriend Munita.   After his last kill is uncovered as a FBI agent, “Toxic”, as he is better known, finds himself in hiding in Iceland, boarding with a born-again Christian couple, having taken the life, and identity of Father Friendly at JFK airport when his assigned alternate identity became known by the authorities and he was threatened with capture.

What did I like? “The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning” is narrated in first person by Toxic, a rude, crude, blunt (Croatian mafia) man whose language is riddled with four-letter words, and other profanities, often employed in interesting combinations – English being his second (or is that third) language.   Toxic’s spoken language, edited through his own social filter, is marginally better than his uncensored thoughts.   Toxic redeems himself though in providing a different point of view from the average man in his perception, and description of his environment.  Then again, Toxic’s life is very different from your average novel reader:  he is living under an assumed name, in a foreign country, because he chose to be in the homicide business but made, one, big mistake.   As much as it is can be hard to like Toxic, or his the opinions he expresses of certain people, his arrangement of English words to describe his situation, his surroundings and the people he encounters is inspired, and lends him (his thoughts rather) a certain appeal.   Toxic certainly provides a unique view of Iceland, being a tourist, a fugitive and in hiding.

[I found it hard to empathise with Toxic, but I certainly enjoyed his own narration of his life. ]

Yes, “The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning” is dark, and the use of profanities is frequent; but this is all part of the charm of this book.  The clash between Toxic’s world and that of his born-again Christian hosts only adds to the humour as he tries to suppress his natural language and behaviour in order to project the image of Father Friendly; his randomly chosen alias.   Most of the characters pop from the book, and can be encountered in the real, everyday, if not mundane world.  Well, maybe it would be a unique experience to notice a Croatian hitman out and about on the streets, but the other characters perhaps.  So, the story felt far-fetched and grounded at the same time.

It is astonishing that this is Hallgrímur Helgason‘s first book in English, and if I had not read this as part of the blurb, I would never have guessed.  It’s marvellous writing, at least in audio format.

The narration by Luke Daniels is wonderful.   I cannot be sure of the accuracy of the accents, but the speaking patterns Mr. Daniels chose to use for certain characters just added to the charm of the overall story.   Mr. Daniels also employed some clever, comic timing, too.   The overall audio was clear and there were no problems whatsoever with the format provided by Audible.

What didn’t I like?   Oh dear.  The end.  The last few minutes of this book were so disappointing.   All the while I was listening, I was wondering where it would all end.  What I didn’t expect was to get there and think, “Huh?  That’s it?“.

Mr. Helgason:  You write this wonderful book, include these great characters, infuse it with sometimes bizarre, but credible humour surrounding life, death, criminals, and a tourist’s view of Iceland, and this is how you choose to finish the story?  WTF?

Would I recommend it?  Despite the let down at the finale, I would recommend “The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning” to others; however, I would do so with the following caveats:

  1. I am not joking when I say Toxic uses a lot of profanity, though often in a unique way.  “F^ck” was found three times in a single sentence, and, at one point, there is a very colourful expression referring to coitus with a dead matron’s corpse utilising the space which ought to be occupied by the left mammary gland, but with much more colourful language employed.    That said, it is nothing you cannot hear out on the streets (yoof culture, etc.).  It  will not be to everyone’s taste.
  2. Toxic’s world is the criminal world, and the violent side at that.  Do expect violence and cruelty in the book, delivered with a line which might be used by James Bond to take the edge off, but which may also seem cold and callous.

If you’re okay with the above, then read, or listen to “The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning“.   It’s funny, it’s offensive, it’s charming, it’s amusing, it’s a damn good read from a new (to English) writer.  I’ll be listening again.

Rating: 4/5.

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