Saturday, 7 January 2017

Not Very Cheap Thrills: Kindling a price war over Rankin, McKinty, Moore and Ben-David

In the crack cocaine world of the  long-running detective series, waiting for the next Rebus or Duffy can be excruciating. I haven’t decided if Adrian McKinty’s habit of blogging teaser chapters of upcoming books is a good or a bad thing - personally I couldn’t face the gap between the opening chunk of Police At The Station And They Don’t Look Friendly (Tom Waits song) dangled online by McKinty and the rest of the book, which I consumed on release day at a single sniff. Ian Rankin’s I’d Rather Be The Devil (John Martyn/Skip James song) was another much-anticipated sequel, though it’s a case these days of slumping with a pleasurable sigh alongside a crumpled, semi-retired and ageing Rebus  (and his dog and assorted retinue) as he more and more measuredly ponders mortality,  slouching along the crime-ridden streets of Disneyburgh, grumbling.

With Duffy, whose journey through the Troubles has reached the late 1980s, there’s still an aghast, stomach-churning sense of being in an out-of-control car heading for unfathomable horror, even as the drugs and wisecracks flow, the intellectual references and gunfire rattle out and the BMW 535i V8 (derestricted) hits 140 mph on the M2 outside Belfast, either NWA or Arvo Part on the stereo.

But here’s a thing. I admit to being a McKinty addict. Which is why paying £9.09 (as I write; it was £12.99 earlier) in paperback -yes,  paperback -  from Amazon might have been a genuine option, had the Kindle version not been a more agreeable £4.74. Go on, Serpent’s Tail, take ruthless advantage! The Rankin book is in a more peculiar position. You can get it in hardback - yes, hardback - on the Big A for £7.00, while the Kindle version is a frankly lunatic £9.99.

I know Amazon prices are set partly by algorithms depending on sales as well as whatever deal the publisher has struck with Bezos and his acolytes, but some of the Kindle prices on high-demand books are frankly disgusting attempts to rip off the hopelessly addicted - or, if you prefer, the faithful fan. Publishers are, on the whole, short-sighted idiots who just don’t get digital; even the vicious fools in the record industry, while punting the dead format of vinyl in pursuit of the vast mark-up an LP offers, will offer you a download code as part of the deal. But seek an offer of a souvenir hardback with a free Kindle edition, and the Neros of print will laugh in your face, and fiddle their launch-lunch budgets as their industry smoulders.

Another example. Alan Moore’s amazing (and badly under-edited, not to mention logorrheaic) Jerusalem came to me as a gift in the single-volume hardback edition. That would be 1100 pages of tiny type, 600,000 words. I wanted badly to read it but it was too heavy and it hurt my eyes. Easy, I’d download the Kindle version and beef up the font. How much? £14. FOURTEEN QUID? Nope. A Kindle version as part of the hardback (£17) deal would have saved sprained wrists and damaged eyesight for thousands.

Grumping about pricing aside, Rather Be the Devil is Late Rebus (Continuing), and extremely enjoyable. Far more concise and focused than the early Rankins, and, dare I say it, relaxed. It offers considerable pleasure alongside a nagging sense of doom. Rebus must die, will die and you sense the author knows that, but can’t bear the thought. The wait for cancer results may be pushing it a bit, though...great music choices, the delights of various restaurants and of course the Oxford Bar. Rankin’s cruising here, but Rebus undoubtedly knows there’s an iceberg ahead,

Police At The Station And They Don’t Seem Friendly - a ‘Troubler’ as some call Northern Irish political thrillers - is among the best of the superb Duffy series from McKinty. Some find these books a bit broad-brush but the speed, wit, sense of place and history are, to my mind, irresistible. Duffy’s Catholicism is very much on display in this latest book, which looks at some extremely unpleasant aspects of Ulster’s past policing, in the form of the infamous ‘B Specials’. Assured plotting, the best gunfight descriptions in the business, vast quantities of drink, drugs and fast cars...that was Royal Ulster Constabulary life in 80s, folks! I absolutely loved this book which in its hectic, full-on humour, constant threat of violence and looming  tragedy, captures the more lurid aspects of Norther Irish life you will find nowhere else in literature. And it doesn't even come close to Altnagelvin A&E on any Saturday night.

Pricing problems looming again, this time for a text which, as I write, isn’t out yet. I loved (see Thrillfilters past) the first  Mishka Ben-David book to be released in English, Duet in Beirut. Now Final Stop Algiers, which I read pre-release, offers even more insights into the strangely casual world of Mossad missions

At first, this tale of a would-be artist recruited into counter-intelligence seems oddly deliberate, then romantic and unlikely. But Ben-David writes as a former Mossad officer and has always stressed in interviews that he keeps his books as realistic as possible. Finally, it occurs to you that this is what it’s really like, right down to the matter-of-fact approach to death and violence, meted out as part of the job and described with great candour.

The final section of the book, detailing a mission to Algeria, grips not because it’s particularly well written (and I don’t think the translation is as colloquial as Duet in Beirut) but because you know it’s really like this. Terrifying, compulsive and uncompromisingly patriotic, there is nothing like Ben-David’s work in the thrillersphere. Powerful, memorable stuff.

But expensive. £11.99 in paperback on release to pre-order and £9.49 on Kindle. Then again, I got mine for nothing...