Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews the newly released Hell to Pay (Avon, $7.99) by Wendy Corsi Staub.
Hell to Pay marks the conclusion of an adult suspense trilogy that includes the earlier novels Live to Tell (which was nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award) and Scared to Death.
Quite auspiciously, the book opens as an earthquake stuns the East coast—an act of God that allows one inmate from the fictional Bridgebury Correctional Facility in Massachusetts to go free, thereby unleashing a vengeful fury upon an unsuspecting family who thought they had found peace at long last. (Note: Staub devised this plot twist long before New England suffered just such a calamity this summer.) The events of Hell to Pay are set a decade after those of Scared to Death, thrusting secondary characters into the forefront as fully realized adults.
The book’s protagonist, Lucy Walsh, is now an adult–and an expectant mother—living in New York City. She and her husband, Jeremy Cavalon, have (mostly) put the tragic events that nearly destroyed their respective families behind them, forging an unlikely but understandable alliance. When Jeremy’s adoptive grandmother is found dead in her bathtub, the victim of an apparent accident, the couple moves into her luxurious apartment—a seeming case of convenience, as the two had just been asked to vacate their own dwelling.
Of course, sinister forces have conspired to ensure this arrangement, and Lucy is often left to ponder her growing sense of unease. After all, Jeremy has a job that requires his presence and attention—and a long-standing rendezvous that is shrouded in secrecy. These long, lonely hours coupled with raging hormones are the stuff that paranoia is made of, but a steadily mounting body count substantiates her cause for alarm—even if she is unaware that somebody is marking the path to her door in blood.
Staub is well known for her depictions of women in peril, and Lucy Walsh is a particularly strong example of this. Not only does her mom-to-be status ensure a palpable sense of vulnerability, but her familiarity as a returning character also evokes a strong sympathetic response in the reader. Other personalities reappear throughout the book, as well–sometimes expectantly and sometimes not—resulting in a menagerie of familiar faces that are often surprising in their actions and intent.
This premise lends itself beautifully to the story at hand, as Staub infuses new blood (if you’ll pardon the expression) into a series that could easily have drifted into the ordinary. Rather, the fifteen year gap in time coupled with the shift in focus takes the story in exciting and unexpected new directions. It also allows the author to examine the after-effects of the bloodshed, deception and dysfunction that punctuated the events of the first two books—a penetrating perspective that should give readers pause to consider the consequences of real-world situations even as they strive furiously to assemble the pieces of Staub’s intricately crafted puzzle.
With this book, Staub offers an exceptional conclusion to a well-executed and often unpredictable trilogy. She methodically brings the story full circle, merging past and present in a terrifying series of events that reminds us that one person’s happy ending often comes at the expense of somebody else’s. As unsettling a truth as this may be, it’s one that needs to be reckoned with. Because if it’s not, there just may be Hell to Pay…
You can learn about Wendy Corsi Staub’s affiliation with The Writer’s Room, a new interview program featuring accomplished authors, here.
Staub recently launched a free author app that is compatible with all i-devices and allows users to read reviews, get customer ratings, see screenshots, and learn more about her books and other creative endeavors. It can be downloaded from the App Store.