Hell to Pay
Ever feel like you were born under a dark star and just can’t catch any luck? I doubt your woes would hold a candle to those of the people in this book. The Cavalon and Walsh families had the extreme misfortune to have a run in with the Quinn family two books ago (Live to Tell ). The fallout from that continued into Scared to Death, and now it threatens them once more. And it doesn’t look like this will be the end.
Lucy Walsh is close, so close, to having all she ever wanted. She adores her husband, Jeremy. She is pregnant and has high hopes of seeing this one all the way through (she’s had two miscarriages). But walking up the steps after a particularly grueling commute she finds out that she and Jeremy are about to spend Christmas on the streets. Because they have just been evicted from their apartment with no reason given. Apparently, the contract they signed didn’t require one.
Jeremy Cavalon is not having a good holiday season. He is stressed about his wife’s condition, concerned with both her health and that of the baby. His big secret has been eating at him lately, making him irritable and touchy. He is embarrassed that his job as a social worker doesn’t pay enough to enable him to support his wife on his own. They desperately need her pay check and she desperately needs rest. And now the eviction notice that means that just when Lucy should be sitting with her feet up she will be packing. Not to add that his job has grown more and more stressful as the youth he works with begin to depend on him more and more. Can’t a guy catch a break?
Why yes he can. Of course, it comes in the form of tragedy. His grandmother dies, giving him and Lucy an apartment to stay in for several months rent free. They jump at the chance, happy to stay in New York, glad to be so close to excellent doctors and hospitals. But all is not as it seems, for Grandma didn’t die of natural causes.
For those that haven’t read the first two books, I think you will struggle with this one. The history between the three families is complicated and many important players are in here briefly without the opportunity for you to get to know them. And yet you need to know them to understand the life and death game being played out here. So my recommendation is to start at the beginning.
For those of us who have been along for the ride this whole time, be ready for some real twists in the characterizations. The strong Marin completely crumbles here. Lauren goes AWOL with her new husband, something I wouldn’t have expected from her either. And Elsa gets caught up in her own life. No one seems at all interested in the fact that Jeremy and Lucy are having a baby in two months or the fact that their families are nowhere near together over the big holiday season. Given what all these mothers were like before, this seemed completely unrealistic. On the other hand, it is a credit to the author that she created well-realized characters in the first place; we have a feel for their behavior.
An additional factor that struck a false note was the Walsh kids’ thinking about dear old dad. Most of the people I know can work up a good resentment of a father who barely visited and who ditched them in their teen years for another woman without breaking a sweat. But Ryan and Lucy are caught up in some sort of “we miss daddy” thing about a man who brought the hell they have been fighting off for the last several years straight into their lives. In fact, Ryan’s life has essentially gone straight down the toilet thanks to the events brought about by Nick’s total self-involvement. Myself, I’d go by and give his grave marker a good kick every once in awhile. This wallowing made no sense whatsoever.
Speaking of which, the villain in this book doesn’t either. This isn’t a series of events gone bad, but complete and total lunacy run rampant. It was just hard to buy into a story that was based on something so very, very fake. In addition to that, the big secret Jeremy is carrying sure didn’t seem so gigantic to me. I didn’t think the fallout he feared would happen if it was revealed.
The book was pulled out of the mire by the author’s ability to write eloquently about ordinary life. Lucy, her brother Ryan, and husband Jeremy are (for the most part) ordinary people with extraordinarily bad pasts. But they are living everyday lives that the author does a terrific job of making seem both relevant and interesting. She once more does a superb job of showing that evil can happen to anyone, anywhere.
Staub also didn’t shy away from the horrors that the past brings to the present. Too often in books, people who have been through traumatic experiences are shockingly healthy and well adjusted as adults. All of these people bear tremendous scars, and the only thing keeping them going is each other and their own awareness that the ugliness is there and must be dealt with regularly. It was painful to see what some of my favorite characters had gone through, and yet it made the whole reading experience much more poignant and realistic.
I have liked this series enough that I will be reading the next book. And I am pretty certain there will be a next one given the abrupt and incomplete ending of this one.