Two new mysteries for two different moods.
Is Aidan Truhen’s “The Price You Pay” (Knopf, 288 pp., $25.95) a hoot, or what?
This hell-for-leather, scurrilously funny thriller is simply dazzling, despite the fact that you’d be hard-pressed to find a line suitable for quoting in a family-minded newspaper.
“Aidan Truhen” is a pseudonym for an established writer. There’s speculation that it’s British author Nick Harkaway, which would explain a lot; Harkaway’s previous books, including “Angelmaker” and “Tigerman,” are, like this book, wildly inventive virtuoso performances.
Our foul-mouthed narrator, Jack Price, is a wealthy coke dealer in an unnamed city (ambiguously British or American) whose neighbor, a nasty old lady, has just been murdered.
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Meanwhile, seven ruthless psycho assassins are after Price, and he doesn’t know why.
So why is the neighbor dead, and who would sic some globally feared and very expensive killers on a relative nobody?
Into his already messy plot, Truhen tosses some serious strangeness — including a guy wearing clothes covered in knives, some really cosmic sex, a top-secret banking system and a genuinely novel use for a compressed-air cannon. The result is fizzy and cartoony, but in a good way. Love it or hate it — there’s not much middle ground here.
Far more conventional is Susan Elia MacNeal’s “The Prisoner in the Castle” (Bantam, 320 pp., $26). It centers on Maggie Hope, an English spy during WWII who in seven previous outings has proven her great intelligence, strength and bravery.
It’s also an overt homage to Agatha Christie’s 1939 classic “And Then There Were None,” along with a whiff of “Jane Eyre.”
Hope has been training to take part in one of the war’s most critical projects — Operation Overlord, aka the Battle of Normandy. But she’s been sidelined, confined to a remote Scottish island because her knowledge is too sensitive to risk using her in the field.
The other residents are also British spies who, for one reason or another, are similarly under lock and key.
When a violent storm prevents any boat from reaching them, this motley group is stranded — and someone is killing them off one by one.
Meanwhile, a Scotland Yard inspector is searching for Hope— he needs her testimony in an upcoming murder trial — but British intelligence is stonewalling him.
Not all of the characters are as fully realized as Hope, but MacNeal’s descriptions of the bleak setting are atmospheric and her locked-room puzzle of a plot is clever, swift and compelling.