The Hitman’s Guide to Housecleaning isn’t a subtle book. If you were thinking of food, this book would be a packet of Twisties — full of flavour and kinkiness — rather than a tastefully cooked French repaste.
We’re introduced to Tomislav Boksic, nicknamed Toxic in the US. He’s a Croat who once fought against the Serbs and now operates as a hitman in the States. That’s until a job goes bad and the FBI begins breathing down his neck. He means to head back to his country of birth, but after a strange twist of fate, he ends up in Iceland, impersonating a televangelist.
This lovable, but not sexy (bald and pudgy), character is lost in this world with no guns, drugs or crime, where winter nights and summer days are long. He is forced to trust people he would have scorned previously and, as the book progresses, Toxic grows into your heart as he finds a conscience and learns to be there for the people he’s been thrown together with, learning to face situations in a different way than he’s been accustomed to. His view on life is unique: funny, enlightening, disgusting and frightening all at once.
All the characters are exceedingly human, with egos and horrid character traits, which would have me running fast in the other direction if I met them in real life. And these horrid traits aren’t resolved at the end of the novel; there’s no trite or perfect reformation even for Toxic. Still, there’s something charming about the each of the characters, which means the book flies. This despite a plot which has trouble inspiring, as Toxic can’t kill anyone in Iceland.
One character I’m not sure worked was the Icelandic love interest, who seemed a bit bland. Perhaps Helgason wanted to create a stark contrast with Toxic’s ex Munita. Also, unfortunately, despite Iceland featuring so heavily in the novel that I would almost class it as a character itself, I didn’t get much of a feeling for how the capital, Reykjavik, looked and felt. I would have liked more atmosphere and setting. Luckily more time was spent on the people living there, even though Helgason seems to rely quite heavily on satirical stereotypes to portray his own countrymen.
Despite these niggles, I loved Toxic too much as a character to give this book a bad rating. I’m giving it 3.5/5.