It’s a Mystery:  Society often forgives the criminal; it never forgives the dreamer

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The Price You Pay
By Aidan Truhen
Knopf, 2018

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Jack Price, the antihero of this wildly zany novel, is batshit crazy and you will be too if you spend any time with him. I kid you not, enter his world, which is fueled by cocaine highs, ever present violence, cocky punks who think lawbreaking is cool, infectious, LOL, rat-a-tat dialogue and you will be hopelessly lost. Your ordered world disappears, replaced by animated disorder. 

Jack is a high-end, high-tech coke dealer, a businessman and entrepreneur, whose brand is called the Pale Peruvian Stallion. It’s the imprint on the little cellophane twists in which it arrives. He’s the Amazon of cocaine trafficking—riding high, so to speak, and no one can breach his complex security system. In short: business is better than good. That is, until someone clips his downstairs neighbor, Didi—which, if you can believe it, is short for Desdemona. She was a thoroughly obnoxious old lady who Jack didn’t like very much.  But why was she shot twice in the chest and once in the head like she was a drug mule? Jack starts asking questions and it gets him into serious trouble. He gets beaten within an inch of his life:

They get me coming out of the elevator .Heavy hands and a billy club or a real old-fashioned sap. They stretch me out. Not white light but yellow and a noise like BOCK that is the back of my head and warm stuff down the collar of my expensive shirt.… It’s going on and on. Cracked ribs cracked everyfuckingthing and pain and beneath the pain the knowing…. One actual message right into my ear. One message in words: Forget about Didi. Fucking leave it alone.

This doesn’t end his troubles. There’s a contract out on his life. The deadly hitmen known as the Seven Demons have been hired to take him out. An outsize response, if you ask Jack:

So they are coming for me. But they’re not really set up to operate in this kind of war. They think they are but they’re not. They’re great with killing presidents and blackmailing megacorporations and coups in countries and criminal organizations but I’m not one of those.  

With the help of his contacts in the dark web, a portal called Poltergeist, Jack plans to take the Seven Demons out one by one. But first he shoots Leo, his own dirty cop who knows too much about him, calling him “a casualty of fucking inappropriate behavior.”  He gives him a sudden hug and then phht, one of his eyes goes red and it’s all over for Leo. Jack is nothing if not homicidally crafty. He shoots the head of one Demon from a grapefruit cannon into another Demon, obliterating both. After that, it’s pretty much a clear path. Game on. Jack has a saying that becomes his mantra: “You do what I say, or I’m the price you pay.”

This is a world-class trip with a lovable psychopath. He’ll sacrifice any friend or acquaintance, often in grisly fashion, to live one more day. He keeps a loony homeless man locked in a warehouse wearing rags covered in knives.  He tangles with an oddly gifted, psychotic sex doctor who ensnares him temporarily with her particular brand of dark arts. The whole thing goes rapidly past the point where it has anything to do with Didi.

The Price You Pay is an intoxicating thriller that reads like William Buckley on mescaline.  It’s demanding, macabre, relentlessly brutal, never dull, a highly original entertainment. It’s been suggested that the pseudonymous author is Nick Harkaway. This is a real possibility given that Harkaway’s novel Angelmaker is very much on Aiden Truhen’s thoroughly mad wavelength. Whoever he is, he’s got you hook, line and sinker from its opening to its end.

Irma Heldman is a veteran publishing executive and book reviewer with a penchant for mysteries. One of her favorite gigs was her magazine column “On the Docket” under the pseudonym O. L. Bailey.