Categorized | Fiction

Hell to Pay Review

Posted on June 4, 2007 by Flames

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Written by Simon R. Green

The Nightside novels are Simon Green’s homage to the classic “hardboiled” detective fiction of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s. The strengths of these novels are the endlessly-varied settings and characters. In Hell to Pay, Simon’s signature Nightside hero, John Taylor, tackles a missing-persons case. Taylor finds himself at odds with militant nuns; cross-dressers with a strong sense of solidarity; and the usual array of angels, devils, and demigods.

The Nightside is the mythical “city within the city of London.” Weirder than The Twilight Zone, and darker than White Wolf’s World of Darkness, the Nightside is a place where the sun never sets and anything can be bought, for a price. It is a place of occult Powers, political intrigue, and dark passions. From Strangefellows (the bar where the wild things go to drown their sorrows) to the Caligula Club (“if you’ve slept with everything that’s got a pulse and a few that haven’t, if you really think you’ve done it all, seen it all, and there’s nothing left to tempt or deprave you – then the Caligula Club is ready to welcome you with open arms, and shock you rigid with new possibilities”) Simon Green paints the Nightside in broad strokes and vibrant colors, leaving you to fill in the details.

While the Nightside is a fertile ground for a plethora of rich and rowdy stories, Green’s characters make Hell to Pay worthwhile. Like the rest of the Nightside novels, Hell to Pay is written as a first-person narrative from the point of view of John Taylor, private eye. Green introduces John Taylor in true “hardboiled” style:

“My name is John Taylor. I’m a private eye, specialising in cases of the weird and uncanny. I don’t solve murders, I don’t do divorce work, and I wouldn’t recognise a clue if you held it up before my face and said Look, this is a clue. I do have a special gift for finding things, and people, so mostly that’s what I do.”

Taylor is a Nightside native, with a paranormal gift for “finding” that tends to cause almost as much trouble as it helps him avoid. He doesn’t carry a gun, and depends on his reputation to keep him safe in the decidedly unsafe streets of the Nightside. Green portrays Taylor as bit of an anti-hero; however, much like Mal Reynolds in Joss Whedon’s Firefly, Taylor’s gruff exterior is wrapped around a soft heart.

Alongside John Taylor, Hell to Pay introduces us to: the Griffin family, a dysfunctional bunch of decadent immortals; Dead Boy, a zombie who has been adopted by a car from the future; the Salvation Army Sisterhood, a group of nuns that John Taylor describes as “hardcore Christian terrorists”; Bruin Bear and the Sea Goat, characters from children’s stories (as well as crossovers from Green’s novel Shadows Fall); Walker, the man whose words really are the law; and even Chuck Adamson, the proto-God of Creationism. Green has a talent for bringing characters to life. Though his descriptions are sparse, he is able to call on archetypes that give the characters a solid feel. With a few words, Chuck Adamson becomes someone you wouldn’t be surprised to meet in a coffee shop.

The Nightside novels are written in an atypical style for Simon Green. His other work is densely packed with rich detail; the Nightside novels are sparse, fast-paced, and easy to read. I finished Hell to Pay in a single afternoon; Something from the Nightside (the first in the collection) took me about the same amount of time. In contrast, Shadows Fall – a Green novel that is about three times as long as a Nightside story – took me nearly three weeks to finish, while remaining just as much a page-turner as Hell to Pay proved to be.

If you enjoy dark fiction, and are amused by the “hardboiled” detective stories or “film noir” of the twenties through the forties, you will enjoy Hell to Pay. Green’s hat-tips to the genre are plentiful and playful, without being formulaic. If you’re a fan of the plot-twist and truly weird settings, Hell to Pay is also for you. If, however, you are looking for a story that will make you think, or you get turned off by too many occult archetypes thrown into a single story, you may want to avoid Simon Green’s work altogether. Myself, I found Hell to Pay to be fun brain-candy, and I will definitely continue to follow the Nightside series as it develops.

Reviewer: Paul D. Lathrop

Look for Nightside eBooks at the Flames Rising eBook Shop.

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