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The Barnes & Noble Review
Standing somewhere between the gritty works of Michael Connelly and James Ellroy, George Pelecanos has firmly wedged himself into the top echelon of crime writers and mined an area of suspense that's all his own. Long admired as a cult novelist, he now broadens his range in theme and character to come up with a combination that will take him to the top of the bestseller lists.
Derek Strange and Terry Quinn -- who first appeared in Pelecanos's Right as Rain -- are private investigators who occasionally work together. When Strange is hired by a pair of female ex-cop P.I.'s to find a teenage prostitute, he farms the job out to Quinn. Strange, who spends most of his free time coaching neighborhood kids in football, is on the hunt for a trio of hoodlums who've been causing trouble in his neighborhood. The leader, known as "D" (which stands for "Death"), prowls the football fields, and Strange must do everything in his power to protect his kids. Quinn follows up on his hunt for the runaway suburban girl turned hooker and is eventually led to Worldwide Wilson, a vicious pimp who will murder anyone who tries to take what's his.
Strange and Quinn are by no means perfect heroes. Each must struggle with his own particular burden. Strange, who's torn between a lasting love and an appetite for prostitutes, frequents the world of massage parlors. Quinn, who was stigmatized after killing a fellow police officer, has such a short fuse that he can rarely deal with the snitches he needs for information.
The author's attention to the seamy side of Washington, D.C., is a powerful draw; its perverse aspects add credible facets to the protagonists and villains. The story flies by with such speed that you'll suffer from friction burns from turning the pages so quickly. Once again, George Pelecanos proves eminently capable of turning in a cunningly crafted story that transcends the street-crime subgenre. Hell to Pay is a novel that works as an intense character portrait and leaves the reader moved and electrified. (Tom Piccirilli)