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October 15, 2008 |

By Brian Prisco | Books | October 15, 2008 |

I’ve been twitching to read this book for a while, ever since I read it on Christopher Moore’s recommendations page on his website. And it reads like a Moore novel, with a cast of insane characters, a smart-assy plot, a decent hardworking main character, and a charming and warm message at the center. It’s just not as well crafted, and kind of scatters towards the end under its own ridiculousness.

The premise starts off strong. Bob Dillon, a man who’s been taunted by his unintentionally homophonic name, is an exterminator trying to make a living for his wife and child in New York. Bob’s intent on using his exceptional entomological knowledge to cross breed strains of assassin bugs in order to develop a pesticide-free method of bug extermination. He’s a genuinely optimistic guy, and he’s comes off as a bug-obsessed Jimmy Stewart kind of dude.

Well, problems start when Bob accidentally answers a want-ad for a professional hitman. And through a series of wacky capers, Bob ends up being mistaken for one of the top assassins in the world. This kind of rankles Klaus, the actual number one, who’s a poor gambler and lives by a rigorous code of decency. After a druglord declares vengeance on Bob for a hit he never committed, all of the top six or so paid killers are after the bounty on his head. And Klaus may end up becoming the only friend he’s got.

Fitzhugh is kind of a cross between Tim Dorsey and Christopher Moore, in that he peppers his books with trivia and minutae, dashes them through will wild and logic defying stunts, and then comes crashing to an insane crescendo. It moves along at a bullet pace, and Bob and the dynamic between his wife Mary and daughter Katy are some of the best moments in the novel. Like I said, he’s sort of this sad-sack working man, but he’s got a big heart and a whole lot of determination.

The novel kind of loses it in trying to be a little TOO wacky, particularly with the assortment of hitmen. There’s the femme fatale who’s the sexiest woman ever to sex up a sex sex. Of course she’s French. Then we’ve got Ch’ang, a doting father who throws chinese stars because I guess Fitzhugh’s too lazy to look up the spelling of katana. Then there’s a Cowboy, who’s apparently dirt-poor and a butchering maniac. The Nigerian, who’s….a Nigerian. And last but certainly not least is Reginald, a dwarven transvestite from Britain. The characters are little more than broad strokes and terribly overused accents in order to create comedy. Fitzhugh feels like he has to make everyone talk SO over the top in order to get a laugh. Reginald drops more brit-slang in two paragraphs than if Guy Ritchie directed that Jerry Seinfeld American Express commercial. The Cowboy actually manages to answer the question of what would happen if James Vanderbeek in Varsity Blues took a head injury and thought he was Jon Voight in Midnight Cowboy. And then the landlord Pratt is a little too Brooklyn. Fitzhugh makes his character too broad. But I guess in something as over the top as this, broad strokes are how you get the job done. It’s like Smokin Aces if every part were played by Coked-Up Comic Relief Robin Williams.

But it’s a fun little read, and it goes by fast. And, which was my biggest impetus for reading the book, they had just world premiered Pest Control: The Musical in North Hollywood a few months back. I smell a Tony! Or maybe that’s just my stale pizza going bad. I have no idea how this was made into a musical, until I read the “inspired by” and knew they changed the shit out of the story. Still, it’s 70s and 80s inspired rock, so it can’t be worse than fucking Abba or Billy Joel or Frankie Valli.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. You can read more about it, here.

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | October 15, 2008 |

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