‘The Price You Pay’

‘The Price You Pay’ by Aidan Truhen, Knopf, 2018, 277 pages, $25.95

You’re going to really hate yourself for liking this book as much as you do.

First of all, just a little bit about the author. British writer Aidan Truhen doesn’t really exist. He’s the pseudonym of another British writer. (The New York Times recently suggested the author might actually be Nick Harkaway, British novelist and son of author John le Carré.)

Whoever he is, Truhen has written an unforgettable thriller in “The Price You Pay,” a book that Carl Hiassen might have written if he were a bit more, um, coarse.

Jack Price is a “white collar do-no-harm coke dealer to the financial aristocracy.” (By the way, that coke ain’t exactly Coca-Cola.) His life’s goal is to always remain “invisible.” Trouble is, that’s recently become more and more difficult. Actually, it’s become virtually impossible.

It seems that Didi, the, um, intractable old woman who is his neighbor, has been killed gangland-style, and Jack is sure that the police will be asking far too many questions, first about Didi, then about his “high-tech, high-end, and on demand” cocaine business. (If the plot has echoes of Dostoyevski, Jack Price ain’t no sensitive Raskolnikov; let’s just say there’s an excess of crime and a plethora of punishment.)

Jack quickly discovers the involvement of the Seven Demons, a clandestine group of murderers usually brought in to fell high government officials and the countries they rule. Jack isn’t quite sure why he (or those around him, for that matter) would be important enough to necessitate calling in the big guns.

So what’s a good businessman to do? Attempt to keep a lid on it all? Attempt to “explain” the error to the Seven Demons? How Jack goes about doing just that makes for a gruesomely comical joy-ride.

And just how gruesomely comical is that joy-ride? Well, to start with, late in the novel, one of the people trying to eliminate Jack tells him: “You are not a sociopath. You experience the world like a normal person but at the same time there is no limit on your behaviour.” Then, at the novel’s finale, Jack admits, “What I do next has to be unequivocally bigger and scarier than when I started otherwise somehow despite everything I will have showed a soft belly and then I am D E A D dead.”

How much “bigger”? How much “scarier”? Look at Jack’s weapons of choice along the way as he attempts to establish his new normal. Among others, there are a human head as cannonball, a wedding-confetti death-drone full of liquid nitrogen, anthrax, a gaffing hook and, well, a watermelon.

All of this is to eliminate the Seven Demons, and it makes for winces and shudders. And there are a shameful number of belly-laughs by novel’s end, along with a new and unexpected business model for Jack Price.

“The Price You Pay” is the origin novel for what is going to be a caustic reinvention of the type of caper novel that entertained us with Donald Westlake’s great Dortmunder Gang. Just be warned: Aiden Truhen’s novel is one for the era of Tarantino. The book is scatological, crude, violent — and appallingly funny.

Near the beginning of the novel, Jack Price tells the story of Leo, a corrupt cop on his payroll: “I am telling Leo that I am very sorry I bit a guy in the face but there were circumstances. Leo is trying not to find this funny. I like Leo. Also he can’t stop himself finding this funny because it slightly is.”

So, don’t hate yourself too much for how funny you are likely to find “The Price You Pay.” Remember: there are circumstances.

Steven Whitton is a retired professor of English.

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