Hell to Pay by Matthew Hughes. Book review

HellToPayHELL TO PAY by Matthew Hughes

Angry Robot, p/b, £8.99/ ebook, £5.49, angryrobotbooks.com

Reviewed by David Brzeski

One thing that occurred to me while reading this third volume in Matthew Hughes’ ‘To Hell and Back’ series, is just how clever he’s been with the setup. What he’s done is to take a lot of characters/elements that would normally suggest a broad situation comedy approach, then treat them completely seriously. That’s not to say the books are without humour – there are many laugh out loud moments – but the main focus is on the plot.

The first book in the series was very good, the second was better. The events of those books were leading up to this final volume in the trilogy and it’s the best yet.

Chesney Armstruther doesn’t even appear until quite a way into the book. Matthew Hughes spends a lot of time carefully building the story of a confidence trickster, only to then have him dealt with very expediently by ‘The Actionary’. It’s this sort of attention to detail that really makes this book work. It needs this attention to detail, because things get very complicated. Chesney wants to expand The Actionary’s area of operations, as there’s not so much crime in his city since his crime-fighting career got going. There are contractual problems for Satan, a confused archduke of hell, and a good cop trying to weed out centuries-old corruption in high places. Chesney had his functional autism cured by Joshua Josephson (a written out version of Christ they found in an abandoned draft of the book God is writing). During an unplanned trip to the distant past (dinosaur fans will love this) he begins to see that this may not have been such an advantage after all. In heaven and hell various denizens are aware that “something is going on.” Chesney’s demon helper, Xaphan, is beginning to think for himself, which is not really in the demon design specifications.

I’ve said enough. This is a great series. The covers, while nice to look at, perhaps emphasise the silly aspects a little too much for such cleverly plotted books. There’s so much more to them than humour.