Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All, by Jonas Jonasson

Jonas Jonasson made a splash with his hilarious debut novel, The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared.  His new novel, Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All, has the same madcap tone, and some of the same elements (suitcases full of cash, bumbling criminals, misguided clergy).  Hitman Anders, a repeat criminal offender, is released from a stint in prison and takes a room at a sleazy hotel where Per Persson (the author makes a self-effacing joke about his own name) is the receptionist.

Per Persson has a chance encounter with a priest, who we learned never wanted to be a priest, doesn't believe in God, and whose congregation recently ran her off because she cursed her father, the church's former priest, from the pulpit.  The receptionist and the priest, drawn together by their thorough-going contempt for all of humanity, and by their desire to make a little money, become unlikely partners (and lovers).

Hitman Anders, not to smart or moral, likes to drink and doesn't have any trouble roughing people up, which he does for hire.  The priest and the receptionist become his agents, of sorts, soliciting much more lucrative contracts, of which they take a large cut.  Anders is perfectly happy as long as he has enough to buy drinks.  When the priest inadvertently inspires Anders to become a Christian, he declares that he will no longer be breaking arms and legs, but wants to give his money away.

Anders becomes well-known for his acts of benevolence, which leads the priest and the receptionist to set him up as pastor of a new church.  Of course, they take a hefty portion of the weekly collection. . . . Meanwhile, competing elements of the Stockholm underworld are determined, alternatively, to snuff Anders and his companions, or to make sure they live.

Hitman Anders is a fun read, full of unexpected twists and random (dare we say providential?) resolutions.  The hapless Anders remains oblivious to what all is going on around him, accepting both setbacks and windfalls with equal guilelessness.  So what is the meaning of it all?  For the receptionist, maybe "the meaning of life is to make other people happy as long as we have the financial means to make ourselves just a little happier?"  The priest keeps looking for a way to make a buck.  Anders rolls with it all.  And plenty of truly bad guys get their just rewards.

Maybe Hitman Anders doesn't pack the punch that The 100-Year-Old Man does.  But Jonasson's latest is full of absurd, irreverent story telling that kept me laughing.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

2016 Reading Challenge: A novel set in a country that is not your own

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