Pest Control by Bill Fitzhugh (Avon Books, 1996) has been on my to-read stack for awhile and it finally made it to the top. A commentary on life in New York City, it is also a laugh out loud funny book. Bob Dillon is obsessed with finding the perfect natural pest control method. His goal in life is to own a pest control company that does not use poison and to drive around in a van with a large fiberglass insect on top. To that end, he raises insects that are known to kill other insects and tries to cross-breed them into more perfect killing machines.
In the meantime, however, his wife has lost her job in the savings and loan debacle and he needs to generate some cash. One beer-drinking night he and a buddy create a flyer outlining his exterminating skills and send it with a snapshot to a carefully worded ad they don’t realize has been placed by an international coordinator of hitmen and assassins. The coordinator has been offered a large amount of money to make someone disappear and none of the usual candidates is available or qualified. The coordinator is convinced the photo is that of a hardened killer. (His assistant, on the other hand, recognizes a drunk when he sees one.) He flies to New York from Switzerland and tracks Bob down, who is stunned when he realizes he’s being asked to kill a human. He declines to take the job but when the unwanted person dies a few days later in a traffic accident, the coordinator is convinced Bob was only playing hard to get and sends him a large envelope of cash. The cash would have solved all of Bob’s problems but his sketchy landlord takes the envelope and forgets about it.
reputation as an assassin is instantly made, and the CIA attempts to capture
this new talent for the Agency’s own. They are awed by Bob’s ability to create
deep cover as a middle-class nonentity. In the meantime, the established
killers are peeved by the unwanted competition and travel to New York to remove
Bob. This comedy of errors goes on and on, only getting more twisted by the
page. My favorite bit was Bob leading one of the hitmen through a string of
Italian restaurants, where the local thugs resent the interruption of their
lunch and take the killer out.
The supporting characters are great. The hitman considered best in the world is depressed and tired of his job but has a gambling habit that consumes all of the substantial money he earns. The hitman coordinator’s assistant is an avid student of couture. Bob’s patient wife is torn between her need for financial security and her love for flaky Bob.
Anyone with a phobia about insects should not read this book, as the descriptions of the bugs and some of their more objectionable behaviors are graphic. I generally don’t care about creepy-crawlies and I found reading some of the details a little unnerving. Otherwise, highly recommended.
· Hardcover: 312 pages
· Publisher: Avon Books; 1st edition (December 1, 1996)
· Language: English
· ISBN-10: 0380973480
· ISBN-13: 978-0380973484
Aubrey Hamilton ©2019
Aubrey Hamilton is a former librarian who works on Federal It projects by day and reads mysteries at night.