The Price You Pay

Written by Aidan Truhen — Jack Price is a coke dealing free market entrepreneur. He sells Pale Peruvian Stallion which is, in fact, grown and processed locally. He arranges his deliveries with freelancers in the zero-hours, gig-economy spirit of modern capitalism. As Price says, he is the Uber for illegal drugs in this unspecified American city. It’s a genius set up with a minimal supply chain that reduces any opportunities for leaks and snitches.

Then his highly successful one-man startup goes pear shaped. First, his elderly neighbour, Didi, ends up dead. She is shot execution style. Two in the chest and one in the head. She might have been an ugly bad-tempered old lady but that doesn’t mean he is happy about it. Price starts making some enquiries but earns himself a beating and a warning. He doesn’t let it go and quickly he ends up with a contract on his head. It’s a spectacular escalation but the Seven Demons are now after him.

The Seven Demons are a global super team of assassins. Perfectly capable of taking down governments and regimes they are a group of supremely organised murdering hitmen of the highest calibre. They have a fearsome reputation. The boss is a PR man. They don’t come much more evil.

Price is utterly self-contained and it’s the one quality that allows him to take on the Demons. He does have colleagues and we meet some of the players in this gangland. There’s Billy and his team of scaffolders who are supplied by Price and they are, in turn, careful not to drop their poles on any passing people. Other than one unfortunate episode with a Bichon Frise… Billy has, improbably, a sideline in ‘manscaping’. Sarah the lawyer looms large in Price’s, admittedly limited, emotions. And we slowly meet the Demons as Price confronts them. It’s a colourful and flamboyant cast.

We need to talk about the style. You might hate it. Truhen has dispensed with much grammar and punctuation. It’s pretty much stream of consciousness stuff at times and it comes with the usual downside. It means it can be hard to read and I lost the thread in places. Yet, it’s still a worthwhile technique if your protagonist is interesting, intriguing, or funny.

And Price most assuredly is good company. He is the uninhibited and unfiltered voice of scorn and cynicism at the modern world. If we happened to be super-rich coke dealing entrepreneurs we might be thinking the same. He’s a high functioning sociopath with a need for vengeance. Price’s mind runs riot and we run with him as he plots and plans against the Demons. The set pieces are inventive and brutally violent. They are verging on fantastical but Truhen holds it together.

And if the style doesn’t induce grammatical apoplexy then you’ll be able to appreciate that the writing sparkles. It’s caustic and cutting. The Price You Pay is also a surprisingly warm book given the cool and calculating sociopathy of Jack Price. He’s not infallible either and for all his slightly manic thought processes he’s straight down the line. There’s no unreliable narrator here.

You have to give credit to Aidan Truhen for creating an utterly preposterous character that we still root for. The Price You Pay is the blackest of comedy crime novels, a fantasy noir, with a sense of humour where you laugh and then feel a wave of guilt at sniggering. It’s over the top, regularly outrageous, and as much fun as casual violence can be.

For more gonzo gangsters try Layer Cake and Viva La Madness by JJ Connolly. And if you are after more pitch black humour try Caimh McDonnell.

Serpent’s Tail
Print/Kindle/iBook
£6.99

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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