The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning is a novel by Hallgrímur Helgason. His first novel to be composed in English, it was actually first published in Icelandic, in the author's own translation, as 10 ráð til að hætta að drepa fólk og byrja að vaska upp. It has also been translated into Dutch, German, Czech, Russian, Polish, Danish, and Italian.
The action of the novel takes place from May 15 2006 to May 12 2007. The novel's protagonist and narrator is Tomislav Bok?i?, nicknamed Toxic. After fighting on the Croatian side in the Croatian War of Independence, he has moved to New York and become a successful hitman for the Croatian Mafia. However, his 67th victim turns out to have been an undercover policeman and he has to flee the country. At the airport, he avoids detection by murdering a priest (who turns out to be a homophobic televangelist called Rev. David Friendly) and taking his identity. Toxic uses Friendly's boarding pass, which takes him to Reykjavík.
In Reykjavík, Toxic is met by two small-time Icelandic televangelists, Guðmundur and his wife Sigríður (whose names Toxic Anglicises as Goodmoondoor and Sickreader). He does his best to pass for Reverend Friendly until the Icelandic police come looking for him. He flees and seeks refuge with his hosts' daughter Gunnhildur (Anglicised as Gun), who dislikes her parents' religiosity, likes music and partying, and is rather pleased to harbour a wanted criminal. Toxic hides in her attic, begins to reflect regretfully on his life of violence, and the two begin a relationship.
Toxic later discovers that his girlfriend in New York, Munita, has been brutally murdered. In grief, he attempts to kill himself by throwing himself off a bridge. Accidentally surviving, he makes his way to Guðmundur and Sigríður's house, where he begs forgiveness and assistance. The two decide to take him in, wrap him in bandages, and get their friend Þorður (Anglicised as Torture), a fire-and-brimstone preacher, to purge Toxic's soul through a programme of bodily mortification and spiritual reflection. Guðmundur uses his underworld and political connections to get Toxic an Icelandic identity as Tómas Leifur Ólafsson, a job, and a room in an illegal boarding-house for East European immigrant workers. Toxic's relationship with Gunnhildur develops. Discovering that some of his Lithuanian neighbours are gangsters, he steals a pistol owned by one of them, and moves out to Gunnhildur's house. He settles into Icelandic life, keeping the pistol hidden in the sole of his shoe.
While watching the 2007 Eurovision Song Contest with Gunnhildur, her parents, and their friends, Toxic (now referring to himself as Tómas) receives a visit from his old mafia colleagues Niko and Radovan. They drive him to the lava-fields of the Reykjanes Peninsula to kill him. Toxic succeeds in disabling them, leaves them alive, and drives back, injured, to the Eurovision party; no-one has noticed his absence. The novel ends with him falling through the front door, and discovering that Serbia has won. The novel ends with the words 'then I'm not sure what happens'.
The novel includes numerous flashbacks to Toxic's experiences in the Croatian War of Independence.
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Style and influences
The narration is first-person and for the most part present-tense. In the estimation of Larissa Kyzer,
Hallgrímur [...] has an almost playful approach to rhyme and description throughout the novel. Toxic refers to a contender for his girlfriend's affections, an Italian mafioso, as "the Talian Mobthrob." In another passage, he describes the late-setting sun: "At 10:33 the sun is still burning on the horizon like an orange lantern at an outdoor Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn." The descriptions don't always hit their mark--there are a few too many laboriously detailed passages about female anatomy, and sometimes the imagery borders on overwrought ("The Balkan animal, which is my soul, is always hungry for prey"), but overall, the prose and dialogue is fresh and expansive.
Toxic comments several times on the limitations of his English, which provides a framework for reading unidiomatic moments in the novel as mimetic of real life.
The author, Hallgrímur, has noted that in some ways Toxic repeats characteristics of Hlynur Björn, the protagonist of his earlier 101 Reykjavík, reflecting that the earlier book 'was written when Iceland was a more innocent place'. He also notes that the book reflects the rise of crime-writing in Iceland.
- Árni Óskarsson: "Make love, not war" Tímarit Máls og menningar, 70. árg., 2. tbl. 2009, s. 123-126
- K[ormákur] B[ragason], 'Bókmenntaspjall', Stína, 4.1 (2009), 85-98
- Kyzer, Larissa, 'The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning' [review], Three Percent: A Resource for International Literature at the University of Rochester, http://www.rochester.edu/College/translation/threepercent/index.php?id=3960.
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