Jonas Jonasson, author of The Hundred Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden, continues his trend of long book titles with his third novel – Hitman Anders and the Meaning of It All. Beautifully translated into English by Rachel Wilson-Broyles, it deals with the trials and tribulations of a misanthropic hotel receptionist who finds himself in an unconventional business relationship with an equally embittered, atheist ex-priest and the titular Hitman Anders. Generally befuddled but still intimidatingly dangerous, the hitman proves to be both a lucrative cash-cow and an unpredictable liability.
It’s another shaggy dog story from Jonasson, this time exchanging the dramatic settings of the previous novels for a sightseeing tour of Sweden’s criminal underworld and rural backwaters. It’s all very silly, from the blatant danger involved in exploiting not just a violent ex-criminal but the wider criminal community, to the subsequent scheme to found a new church based on persuading the flock to give to the collection whilst steaming drunk.
The hitman proves to be an entertainingly bizarre character as he slowly turns his alcohol-fuelled mind to increasingly thoughtful questions, much to the bemusement and frustration of the priest and the receptionist as they do their best to manipulate him into applying his particular talents to the task of earning them large sums of money. The priest and the receptionist are perhaps less well defined, motivated by a shared sense of anger at a world that’s always been against them but somehow never quite feeling fully developed. Where the story works best is the escalating tension between the hitman’s increasing interest in bettering himself, and the priest and receptionist’s increasingly unethical attempts to control him in order to maintain their wealth and mortal safety.
On the whole it’s an enjoyably daft story – fast-paced, full of twists and turns, and completely unpredictable. Much like The Girl Who Saved… it never really reaches the heights of Jonasson’s first novel, at least partially because the central concept simply isn’t as clever or endearing. It’s perhaps not the place to come looking for detailed and complex character studies, but it does a pretty good job of providing a good bit of fun, light entertainment.