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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars

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on 12 March 2009
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. George P. Pelecanos uses the language of the street to paint his descriptions. It's clear that he knows what goes on in the grimy parts of the city and uses it to infuse a crime novel with character. In places this `Hell to Pay' almost feels like a novelisation of `The Wire' (a show Pelecanos was part of), but lacks the energy that the show possesses.

I find Pelecanos' books like the jazz records that Strange listens to. Having read one or two I started to realise the nuances that play through them. `Hell to Pay' is not a book that jumps straight into the action, or even the main story. It is not until the half way point that a true narrative comes in. The start of the book is all about setting up the story and adding character; this will appear to some people more than others. I found it a little slow, but having read a couple of his books the style is really starting to grow on me. Strange and Quinn are two great characters with as many issues as the people they are investigating and Pelecanos manages to balance their work and home life just right. With an explosive finale the book is certainly worth a read, but you may have to struggle through the first half to get there.
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on 30 November 2001
The second in the Strange/Quinn series is every bit as good as its predecessor, though this time Pelecanos allows his two storylines to diverge. Here Terry Quinn, the volatile Irish ex-cop, and black P.I. Derek Strange are driven to investigate separate crimes - both of them doing for their own selfish reasons as much as for the victims of the crimes themslves. Quinn's investigation is (as you'd expect)liberally spiced with nerve-racking descriptions of physical violence. To my mind Strange is the more interesting character, a deeply moral man struggling to do right and to set a good example to the inner-city kids on the football team he and Quinn coach. The sense of horror he feel at the climax of his story, as he finds himself unwilling witness to a showdown of his engineering, is a stunning piece of writing.
This series is proving every bit as powerful as Pelecanos' earlier D.C. Quartet and, while I still long for the return of alcoholic P.I. Nick Stefanos, you have to admire the man for knowing when to leave his characters be. Pelecanos' powers show no sign of diminishing and, as the recent republication of the "lost" novel Shoedog proves, he is pretty much incapable of writing a dud book. His one weakness is that his female characters are not as fully realised as his male protagonists, but this is a book about men involved in violent situations and about male friendships. If you have any interest in US crime writing then this is as good a place as any to introduce yourself to the Peckinpah of crime fiction.
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on 4 April 2005
I have long been a fan of George Pelecanos, whose gritty, urban novels, set in areas of Washington, DC, which do not appear on tourists' itineraries, are peopled by some of the most realistic characters in contemporary fiction - the honest working poor, the disenfranchised, as well as the career criminal. The author consistently sets a high standard of authenticity, especially in terms of what life is about growing up in the projects and on the mean streets, where the sub-culture and economy of illegal substances are always good for a lift. Without making apologies or excuses, Pelecanos is the rare writer who enables readers to empathize, at times, with even the most hardcore criminal - although there is an unusually nasty human predator here.
Derek Strange, is a black, middle class, middle-aged man, a former cop and a successful private investigator. Although tough, his heart is in the right place. Derek has worked before with Irish ex-cop, turned PI, Terry Quinn, in "Right As Rain." The two detectives hook up again in "Hell to Pay," to find a fourteen year-old girl who has run away from her home in middle class suburbia, and is determined to be the star hooker for one of DC's most vicious "handlers." The two are interrupted, mid-investigation, by the merciless drive-by shooting of one of the neighborhood kids. The boy, ten-year Joe Wilder, was a most promising member of the peewee football team that Strange and Quinn coach. He was also a good candidate for life outside the projects. Devastated by the death, and the feelings the loss triggers, Strange becomes a man on a mission to personally take down the killers.
Pelecanos delves into the private lives of both Strange and Quinn, which makes for a richer narrative, and gives the reader more insight into these two protagonists. Derek has a long-term relationship with Janine, his office manager. Although the two love each other, Strange, who has a settled life, and is committed to help his community's young black men make good futures for themselves, is unable to commit to a monogamous relationship. Janine's teenage son, Lionel, to whom Derek feels very close, points out that he doesn't want to get too tight with a man who might be gone tomorrow. The volatile Quinn, a loner who has never had a successful relationship with a woman, meets Sue Tracy, of Bagley and Tracy Investigative Services, "Specializing in Locating and Retrieving Minors." Quinn feels strongly enough for Sue that he is willing to try breaking his track record. The new couple could make it, with lots of work. Quinn also needs to deal with his hair-trigger temper and not so latent racism.
The clear, straightforward writing is outstanding, but the pace does not pick-up speed until near the conclusion. The tension is there from the beginning, however, and builds in intensity. This is as much a character-driven novel as plot-driven, thus the slower momentum. I find it a plus. The author has an ear for street talk that just brings conversations to life. His dialogues are unlike any other. Sometimes when the characters are back-and-forthing, especially about music, there is almost a rap-like rhythm to the prose. The narrative is imbued with a certain nostalgia. Someone is always remembering the old neighborhoods and the way things used to be, (for better or worse), going back to the Vietnam War and the riots in the 1960s. This is real icing on the cake, which few can deliver like George Pelecanos. A terrific noir novel.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 18 October 2002
I've lived in DC for 20 years, my family is from here, and Pelecanos is only the second author I’ve come across who writes about the DC that I know and recognize (the other is Edward Jones, check out his story collection “Lost in the City” if you can find it). In his tenth book, middle-aged PI Derek Strange and younger white ex-cop Terry Quinn return for their second tour of DC's mean streets following Right as Rain.
If the theme of that last book was racism, this one's is hopelessness. The two main stories revolve around teenagers who have lost any sense of hope and whose existence has spiraled into ugliness from which they are incapable of breaking free. One of these stories follows three boys as they peddle hydro (pot), boost cars, bet o dogfights, listen to tunes, eat fast food, and eventually commit murder. The trio are emblematic of many kids who grow up in the ghetto, with no fathers, no guidance, and ultimately no hope. All they have is their street rep and a resignation that they will die young. When they murder someone close to Strange, he races to identify and track them down before the police do. The other story revolves around a nasty pimp (as if there's any other kind) who specializes in teenage talent, and what happens when Quinn helps a prostitution support group try and extract one of the girls and take her home.
The antidote to this theme of hopelessness is Strange and Quinn's coaching a neighborhood Pee-Wee football team where they try to teach the boys the right way to live and to see that life holds possibilities for them. Of course, as in all Pelecanos' books, there's a running dark tone that lets the reader know there are few happy endings in this world. Mixed in with the two "cases" are the duo's personal struggles, the main one being Strange's attempt to come to terms with his relationship with his office managed Janine and her son. Quinn, meanwhile, struggles with his own inner rage and embarks on a new relationship. As in the previous book Strange and Quinn make a nice odd couple as they verbally spar with one another about race, although Pelecanos has subtly made them more comfortable with each other.
If you’ve enjoyed Pelecanos' previous books, you’re likely to enjoy this one as well. It’s a definite step up from Right as Rain, and full of all the usual Pelecanos details about music, cars, and sports.
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on 27 January 2010
This is a good read - no more , no less. I find this author less than inspiring as his characters are very cliched and his plots predictable. I don't find his writing style makes up for these shortcomings but most other reviewers don't seem to share my opinion. He spends too much time writing about music (design the soundtrack first and write a story around it?), his moralising on racial issues is superfluous and a touch condescending and his use of slang is over the top.(By all means use it in dialog but readers don't HAVE to know just how HIP George P. is !)

This is the second in a trilogy with PI Derek Strange and his aide, Terry Quinn, and is a slight improvement on its predecessor "Right as Rain" as there's some attempt to give more insight into their characters. Pelecanos does't use dialog enough to make this characterisation anything more than superficial but there is plenty of action as the tale unfolds.

Both heros have their own cases to work out and pacing is quite good. The ending is well thought out and leads nicely onto the final book in the series. In my opinion the trilogy itself is better than the sum of its parts. Each story is a stand-alone in its own right but really you should probably read all three to get the total effect
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on 8 September 2013
I always enjoy Geoge Pelecanos novels ever since I viewed The Wire boxed set.. He conjures up Washinton so you can almost smell it. What more can an author achieve. His characters are always believable. I think he has taken over from James Lee Burke.
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VINE VOICEon 5 December 2003
Washington DC PI Derek Strange is hired to investigate what has happened to a teenage runaway believed to be on the game, while at the same time the murder of a child in the football team he coaches out of hours leads to another case. Quite a brutal and sad look at inner city violence and racism and the difficulties of helping kids and young people, the pervasiveness of crime. But the characterisation and the personal lives of Strange and Quinn help to make the book less bleak than it otherwise would be, while at the same time making me care more about the characters and what happens to them.
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VINE VOICEon 30 May 2009
An interlinked story where PI Derek Strange and wild ex-cop Quinn both face up to their own crises whilst investigating murder in modern Washington DC.

The dialogue is virtually unintelligible to a UK reader. The description of Washington is a tedious litany of street names - it was like reading the A to Z.

The constant repetition of gangsta rap artists, Redskins wide receivers, street chic, street patois, street names and landmarks is simply dull. Worse still it is repetitively dull.
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on 27 February 2006
Derek Strange is a P.I. who knows D.C. As a football coach, he teaches young kids lessons that will keep them alive on the drug-infested streets. But when one of his players mistakenly goes home with his uncle and is killed in a drive-by shooting, Derek will do anything to find out who is responsible. His white partner is involved in his own mission to take a young prostitute off the D.C. streets. But to do so, he must first take on the girl’s pimp. What makes this book better than most is Strange’s flawed character. In this outing, he’s having commitment issues with his long-time girlfriend. Can he rid himself of his bad habits, particularly his fascination with massage parlors?
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Great book
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