Bill Fitzhugh has worked in radio, television and film, and the
sensibilities of those media show in this strikingly funny (if not
unpredictable) novel of mistaken identities. It's no great leap to
imagine Pest Control as a comic movie, but the novel avoids
the banality of other books (usually "thrillers") that seem to be written as screenplays
without the stage directions. Offbeat and engaging, Pest Control
succeeds as a light and ridiculous feel-good read.
Bob Dillon (yes, it's a name that's brought him a lifetime of bad
jokes and calls for songs) is an exterminator who can't take it any more. He's a
bug man with a dream, an idealist who won't do his work one day longer with the
way-beyond-safe amounts of chemicals his employers use to eradicate
infestations of the insectoid variety. Quitting in a fit of hilarious
pseudo/near violence, Bob is finally free to pursue his dream of all-natural
pest control. For years he's been hybridizing insect predators in his
basement "bug room," and now he has to tell his patient, down-to-earth
wife that it's time for him to try to make his dream reality. All Bob
really wants is a a fine pickup truck with a fiberglass bug on top, but
his pragmatic wife Mary has an almost obsessive need to keep her credit
rating pristine. She's waitressing double shifts to keep the bills at
bay and their daughter fed. Dubious of the success-potential of Bob's
plans, she agrees conditionally to his dreamchasing.
Assassin bug after hybrid assassin bug fails to achieve total cockroach eradication
in the various businesses and abandoned buildings where Bob tests his
little babies, including an uproarious episode in a fine French restaurant.
Even the terminally upbeat Bob begins to sink into despair as the bills
keep coming and Mary leaves him, taking their daughter. While drowning
his sorrows in beer (bought by a friend), Bob finds an classified ad in
the New York Times wanting a "Professional Exterminator"
and offering $50,000 for a weekend job in Zurich. Bob sends his "resume"
(a flyer with a skull and crossbones advertising his fifteen years
experience), but the episode is forgotten with his hangover.
Thus begins the hapless Bob Dillon's unwitting foray into the world
of high-paid assassins -- the human kind. When the man whom Bob doesn't
even know he's agreed to kill dies in a car accident, the premiere hitmen
(and women) of the world find themselves threatened by an efficient
newcomer who has no idea of the danger he's in, who's done nothing to
deserve his new reputation. As drug lords, governments and the world's
top ten assassins all converge to try to take him out, Bob Dillon, using
New York City as a weapon, will
make an unlikely friend, win back his wife and find success in a way
that even this perpetual dreamer could never have imagined.
Pest Control is just plain funny. A delightful, accessible
story, it can serve as a perfect 'tweener book for a break from
the heavy stuff. Bill Fitzhugh's got Christopher Moore's sense for the
absurd without the injection of the truly surreal. Pest Control
is a worthy comic debut.