Hell to Pay, the seventh novel in Simon R. Green’s NIGHTSIDE series, takes a turn in tone. For the past few installments John Taylor has been dealing with his mother, Lilith, who brought an epic war to the Nightside. Now the war is over and there’s a power vacuum. Jeremiah Griffin, a rich powerful immortal man, plans to fill the void. During his machinations, though, his granddaughter disappears, having apparently been kidnapped. Griffin needs John Taylor, the man who can find anything, to get her back. This is normally an easy thing for Taylor to do, but something seems to be blocking his power. Now John has to do his job the hard way — by pounding the streets and looking for clues. That isn’t easy, but it is interesting, because Griffin’s family, who are all suspects, have a lot of secrets to hide.
Fans of the NIGHTSIDE series (who, I guess, are the only ones who would actually be reading Hell to Pay or, for that matter, this review) who enjoyed the epicness of the last few books may feel like Hell to Pay is a little light. It’s much more like the first couple of books in the series. I, however, welcomed the end of the war and John’s return to his gumshoe days. Now, instead of going back and forth in time, he’s meeting some real weirdos and exploring some shady places in the Nightside that we’ve never seen before. These are the things that Simon R. Green does best.
In Hell to Pay, besides all the usual suspects (e.g. Suzie Shooter, Dead Boy, Walker, etc.) we meet Dracula, the bizarre Griffin family and their butler, a one-man exploding cabaret act, and (my favorite) a Christian terrorist organization called the Salvation Army Sisterhood (nuns who “sin to put an end to sinning”). We also visit a drag club and hear radio broadcasts from Hell.
As I mentioned, weirdness is what Simon R. Green does best. All of the little parts of his world, and the people who populate it, are quirky and wild and fun. But when it comes to actual world building, things don’t quite match up. Green has a habit of introducing, in each book, someone or something even more dangerous/powerful/epic than we’ve ever seen before, and telling us it’s the most dangerous/powerful/epic thing in the Nightside. An author can only do that so many times before I start suspecting that he’s not telling the truth. (For example, why had we never heard of the powerful immortal Griffins before this novel?) Clearly, the new introductions in each book are there to ratchet up the tension. It works, I suppose, but not very smoothly.
A related issue is that there is always some reason why Taylor cannot use his powers. In the past, this was because his enemies could find him when he used his gift. That seemed legitimate, but now that the war is over and the enemies are no longer a threat, there has to be some other agency that blocks Taylor’s power simply to create the tension the story needs. Also, I thought that John Taylor was supposed to be the most powerful person in the Nightside, but we keep finding out that there are other agencies that are more powerful than he is. Is he, or isn’t he the most powerful person in the Nightside? The answer seems to depend on what the plot needs at the moment. Readers who just want to read about Green’s quirky characters and his bizarre setting are probably happy to overlook these little problems and, for the most part, I’m happy to do the same. But readers who want to immerse themselves in a fantasy world might like to know that this one is a little hard to believe in.
I listened to the audio version narrated by Marc Vietor, who is always awesome.