Nordic humor and satire from Hallgrímur Helgason
So I was not shocked by the following in Hallgrímur Helgason's The Hitman's Guide to Housecleaning:
"I understand the smoking ban is on its way up here [to Iceland], in a sunny sailboat named the Al Gore. ... Only when you've had some fifty warless years do you start worrying about things like air quality in bars."and
"Getting Friendly off my back was like dumping a loud girlfriend with a Texan accent and a cell-phone addiction."and
"She smells like a New Jersey Devils' banner that's been hanging on the dim corner of a seedy Newark lounge for the past twenty years."and
"I don't know. I just hate it when people discriminate against me, only because I kill people."Along the way, Hallgrímur's satirical targets include sanctimonious public apologies and spurious declarations of corporate duty to the customer. And I have to think that his decision to make the protagonist a Croat is a bit of sly fun at the expense all the crime novelists who have found it expedient in recent years to people Europe with Balkan characters, usually one per book, generally dark and forbidding, all the better a background against which we are asked to contemplate big subjects like human depravity and the vicissitudes of history. (I can't be sure, but I think those characters have tended to be Croats rather than Serbs, possibly because Serbs were the bad guys in the recent Balkan wars, as opposed to World War II, when Croats filled that role.)
The Icelandic author's decision to make his protagonist/narrator a foreigner also affords him the opportunity to observe the oddities of his own country: its silence, its high prices, its cleanliness, its difficult language, its beautiful women. And the briefer glimpses of the protagonist's native Split tally with my recollections of that marvelously situated city.
I'm not sure how well a middle section works in which the multi-named protagonist has an emotional crisis and undergoes a kind of exorcism. The section is melodramatic, and Hallgrímur has more fun when the soul-savers turn out to engage in some of the same crimes as the protagonist does. But even there Hallgrímur works in a few good observations and jokes.
© Peter Rozovsky 2013