“ Genre: Crime / Thriller / Author: George P. Pelecanos / Mass Market Paperback / 416 Pages / Book is published 2003-03 by Grand Central Publishing „
As a child my best friend's Dad always warned us off Jazz. He did not do this because he hated the genre, but because he was addicted to it (his words). He suggested that at first you won't like it and in fact actively dislike it, but if you listen to some more it will grow on you. Before you know it you are searching record shops for obscure vinyl of long dead musicians. I took the man for his word and have avoided the genre ever since, but this has not stopped me coming under its influence. George Pelecanos' crime books often mention Jazz and like that medium this author will grow on you. Initially, I disliked him and found his books overly complicated and urban, but after a second chance I am beginning to enjoy him. Would 'Hell to Pay' prove the turning point?
The Urban landscape of America's cities is not a pretty one. Drugs are rife and arrive in an unstoppable tide. Some people try to stand above it like Terry Strange a man brought up in the roughest parts of Washington, but trying his best to stay straight as a PI. He spends several nights a week training Peewee American football to the local youth with his business partner Quinn. One day his work and his recreation clash when one of his team is killed in gangland crossfire. Strange is going to catch the men that did this to an innocent 10 year old, but what will he do when they are discovered? Does he hand them over to the police or to the gangland boss also looking for them? This case will challenge Strange's character more than any other has.
Pelecanos is one of the most nourish of modern crime authors that I read. He paints a very bleak picture of modern Washington and concentrates on the disenfranchised elements of the community, mostly being black. Pelecanos was brought on board 'The Wire' as part of the writing team and the comparisons between his writing and the show are very easy to make. Both are about urban lifestyles and how people do what they need to do to get along. Unlike the other books I have read by the author 'Hell to Pay' puts the lifestyle of the Washington's poor in a clear light. The book has a very powerful and real feel to it as you realise that this is going on within the capital city of the richest country in the world.
As mentioned earlier I feel that Pelecanos almost writes in the style of Jazz. There is absolutely no rushing him towards a traditional murder mystery. Instead, he spends the first half of the book painting a vivid picture of the characters. Strange himself is fleshed out as we see that he has demons too, he is no longer someone automatically better than his peers. However, it is perhaps the sections that follow the gangs that resonate most. The story is told in part from their perspective as well as Strange's as he catches up with them. These three men act and speak in a very realistic way and come off the page. Their disregard for life is troublesome and certainly adds a depressing layer to the book.
Personally, I found the first half a little hard to get through as although it paints a deeper picture it is slow and not that much happens. I am afraid that the initial chapters will put enough people off so that will not be able to finish the book and get to the sections that are the most worth reading. Once the crime element in the book kicks off the pace is good and finale exciting. I was also impressed with how well Pelecanos was able to balance the personal struggles that Strange was going through with his investigation of the case. Many authors go into far too much detail about a character; with a series of crime novels you have the luxury to develop someone over time in small amounts.
'Hell to Pay' is a dark and damning portrayal of modern life in America and how people can become disenfranchised just minutes away from the super rich. This is a book were the good people sometimes have to do some dubious things to guarantee their survival. Perhaps this alien concept of living one's life in constant fear is too much for me and prevented me from enjoying the first half of the book. Pelecanos uses great imagery, but just goes about it at too slow a pace. However, once the book develops I started to get a feel for it and the language used became second nature. Like Jazz, Pelecanos has begun to grow on me and as I learn his nuances his skills as an author become more apparent. I do not yet think he is anything but average, but it's clear to see the potential in 'Hell to Pay'.
Author: George Pelecanos
Price: amazon uk - £0.01 (2nd hand)