The Lilith War is over. The Authorities are quite dead. John Taylor is finally free of his old Enemies, knowing that there’s no reason for them to exists as they did since the Nightside still stands. So what’s a private investigator to do now that he’s saved the world? Disneyland? Nope, its back to the grind.
In Hell to Pay (by Simon R. Green of course), John Taylor gets called on by one of the biggest, baddest names in the Nightside, Jeremiah Griffin, for a job. Griffin (often referred to as The Griffin), is immortal due to making a contract with the Devil very long ago. By extension his wife, children (and their spouses) and grandchildren are all immortal as well. And being immortal, he’s had plenty of time to build of his reputation and his wealth.
So what could a man with infinite resources and power need of John Taylor? Well, his gift of finding things to be frank. You see, Jeremiah recently changed his will (which might be a bit odd seeing as he’s immortal and all, but you never know in the the Nightside) to leave everything to his granddaughter Melissa (good name). Unfortuntely, Melissa has gone missing and Jeremiah believes her kidnapped.
He hires John at the cost of ten million pounds, one million up front, to find her. She was taken from Griffin Hall itself, which is really quite heavily protected. John’s immediate thought is inside job. But who would dare? John turns to his gift to find Melissa and it’s immediately shut down but something powerful. That means good old fashion, pounding the pavement (or plush carpeting) detective work.
John starts out questioning all members of the family, who are in the Hall already as Jeremiah wouldn’t let them leave. It really gets him nowhere. They’re so used to not having to do things they don’t want to do that they’re quite combative. It doesn’t hurt that there’s so much paranoia in the Griffin family that they’re practically bathing in it. They give a united front of “we’re not speaking with you, especially here in the Hall”. With nothing for it, John heads out of Griffin Hall and back into the Nightside proper.
He heads to Strangefellows where he picks up some intriguing gossip from one of the Unnatural Inquirer‘s writers, Harry Fabulous. He also leaves his millions pounds with some time friend and bartender Alex Morrisey (though he claims its a briefcase full of explosives. He’s not stupid after all). He’s about to go corner the Griffins in their respective clubs when a woman with a Kayleigh’s Eye (a very nasty weapon) comes in, threatening to kill him (or worse most likely) for being an abomination (really, they should be over this by now. He helped destroy his mother after all). John very calmly (outwardly at least), waits for the woman to get closer before sending the Kayleigh’s Eye back where it came from. He then punches the woman out. Clearly, someone really doesn’t want him searching for Melissa Griffin.
John’s next stop is the Caligula Club. As in the Roman emperor Caligula. So you can extrapolate just what that club is about. ;-) His gossip source told him that William, the Griffin’s son, is a member there and has quite the extreme tastes. John bullies his way in (It’s amazing what the Griffin’s name will get you in the Nightside) and finds not William, but his ex-supermodel wife Gloria. Gloria is Melissa’s mother, though she never really got the chance to be a mother. Jeremiah took custody of Melissa and her cousin Paul as infants.
Gloria tells John that the Caligula Club wasn’t extreme enough for William any more (wow!) but she stuck around because she liked it. She tells Taylor point blank she had nothing to do with Melissa’s disappearance nor does she know who did it. She also tells him that she wants Melissa found because she does love her daughter, even if she doesn’t have a real connection to her. She gives Taylor a tip to find her husband, another club called the Arcadian Project.
The Arcadian Project is one of those places that has a reputation in the Nightside. People have heard of it, but they don’t really know what goes on there. Rumor has it that most people who go in, don’t come back out (insert menacing horror movie music here). Since John has no idea where this place is (not many do), John decides he’ll have to try his gift again and finds to his surprise that it works now. Apparently the person or presence that blocked him at the Hall is only blocking him when he’s looking specifically for Melissa (natch).
He finds the project, goes inside and finds…paradise. Essentially. He walks into a meadow of gently rolling hills with a burbling stream and…his parents. Having a picnic. His dead parents. The Arcadian Project is a place of peace where your wishes come true. Wish you had a regular family who picnics with your favorite foods? Boom. John takes a moment to enjoy the illusion but it’s just that. An illusion. His parents are in Limbo quite literally. And before that his father was dead. Yeah, kind of a weird family history there.
John leaves his parents behind and finds William surrounded by childhood characters from books and TV, looking more at peace than John has seen previously. With him are old favorites of Green’s of Bruin Bear and the Sea Goat. Either these guys were real children’s book characters that Green loved as a child or he created them specifically for his many books. Either way, I love them (especially the Sea Goat). Bruin Bear and the Sea Goat are visiting from the Nightside and consider William their friend.
William confesses that he didn’t care about how the will cut him out. He’d never wanted to be put in charge of the family anyway but he’d never been given a choice in what he did. So to have some semblance of control in his life, he did two things: body building and indulging his senses (hence the Caligula Club among other things). He loves his daughter Melissa and genuinely wanted to be a good father to her but never got the chance. He’s not quite sure how Melissa disappeared. He doesn’t think she could have been kidnapped from the Hall (all those security measures!) but he doesn’t believe she just ran away. In the end, he shuffles John off to his sister Eleanor at the Hecate’s Tea Room.
The tea room is the place for the Nightside’s Ladies Who Lunch. Sounds a bit intimidating doesn’t it? You are no one in society if you don’t lunch at the Tea Room. All the high roller’s wives lunch there. Again, John gets in on a combination of reputation and the Griffin’s name. Eleanor gives him a bit of a hard time, to keep up appearances, but eventually agrees to talk to him in a private booth.
Like her brother, once she’s away from the Griffin’s immediate eyes and ears at the Hall, she turns talkative. She tells John that her father didn’t really care about her. He had William and her father is old enough that a woman was considered damn near useless aside from marrying off to another man. They don’t get much farther before they’re interrupted by Eleanor’s latest toy boy, Ramon.
Ramon wants to make a bit of a name for himself. He wants to take down the infamous John Taylor because when you get a reputation, people want to test it. Eleanor is her usual dismissive self and basically tells him to bugger off and be a good piece of arm candy (nice to see the tables changed I suppose). Ramon tells her to shut up and effectively cuts off his cash cow in that moment. He threatens John with a silver knife (really not the material you want to make a blade out of but if it cuts it cuts). John stares him down, only John’s stares are so much more. The various bodyguards of the Ladies Who Lunch back up this little tit because they want a piece of the action (and very much not because they like the guy. Which they don’t).
The bodyguards rush John but they’re not used to fighting in a group. John distracts them with a whiz bang (which I assume is rather like a flash bang?) and pulls out an aboriginal pointing bone. These things are nasty. You say a Word, point the bone and the person you’re pointing it at dies. Simply and effective and you can’t block it (sort of like the Avada Kedavra curse). The bouncers then toss out Ramon and John tries to get back to his conversation with Eleanor only to be blocked again.
A messenger comes to get Eleanor. Her husband Marcel has a gambling problem and he’s in it deep with an unsavory type. Marcel can’t gamble at the nice places any more. He can’t cover his debts on his own and the Griffin refuses to pay for him. So he goes to the much less reputable spots and gets in trouble. Like now. John insists on accompanying Eleanor, if only because these people are likely to take her hostage as to blackmail the Griffin. A bit of a dust up later and Marcel (quite worse for wear) is rescued and sent back to the Hall to heal.
Finally able to get back to their conversation, Eleanor admits that she doesn’t know her niece very well. She’s quiet and studious. However, Eleanor believes Melissa was kidnapped with inside help from the Hall. She just can’t think of who would help in the endeavor because everyone in the Nightside knows that the Griffin will move heaven and hell and all in between for family. And then she tries to get in John’s pants. Not really a good idea considering that he’s officially “with” Suzie Shooter (at this point, not really physically and if you’ve read the previous books you know why).
John politely declines (hey, he can be nice) and Eleanor tells John where he can find Paul. Paul’s club is a place we’ve been before in Nightingale’s Lament, Divas! Paul knows deep inside himself that he was born to the wrong sex. He has always believed himself to be a she. Unfortunately, the contract that keeps the Griffins immortal also nullifies any attempt Paul has made to change himself to a woman, either scientific through sexual reorientation or magical. So in order to feel a bit more himself, Paul dresses as a woman and goes to Divas! to sing. He calls himself Polly and dresses up (a little weirdly I feel but to each their own) as his cousin Melissa. He does it so well that at first John thought he’d found Melissa and not Polly.
P0lly, it turns out, knows a bit more than his parents or his aunt and uncle. Polly knows where the original deal Jeremiah made with the Devil is, at tells John to find what’s in the basement of the Hall. Not long after, Polly just gets up and heads to sing because that is all she really wants, to be herself and sing. Of course, things go to hell in a hand basket promptly. A group of women in fatigues storm in, demanding that Paul Griffin (not Polly) be handed over to them or there will be blood.
Unfortunately for them, after the incident in Nightingale’s Lament, all the girls at Divas! go heavily armed. There is a fire fight of mildly epic proportions and all the invading women are killed. John deduces that with the brand spankin’ new fatigues, the really short hair cuts, the lack of makeup and the simple gold wedding bands that they’re all wearing, that they are nuns (undercover nuns at that). The question is, which service? With none of the nuns left alive, he can’t get the answers now but he’s sure he will eventually. In the mess of the fight and the immediate aftermath, Polly disappears.
With no reason to stay, John leaves Divas! and is immediately mentally assaulted by Jeremiah Griffin in a very loud voice directly to his mind. What could possibly be so important? A party of course! He’s throwing a part to show that he isn’t weak or distracted by his missing granddaughter (never let them see you weak is pretty much the motto of the Nightside). Besides, there will be people to interrogate there! All or most of the Griffin’s many enemies will be in attendance.
So John picks up Dead Boy on the way and heads to the Hall. No one said he couldn’t bring someone but mostly John just needed a ride. Jeremiah points out the who’s who in the crowd and then leaves him to his own devices. The Griffin’s children, William and Eleanor, try to hire him to bump off dear old dad and John turns them down flat. He’s not an assassin, he’s a private detective. John walks away from them and that is when Walker puts in an appearance.
Jeremiah is livid that Walker burst in uninvited but his security measures don’t work. Walker assures the Griffin that he isn’t there for him (the yet being unspoken). One of Jeremiah’s guests is not who everyone thought, it is a shapeshifting creature called the Charnel Chimera. Just a handshake will allow it to imitate a person for a short period. But if he kidnaps and feeds on the person, it can keep up the farce for much longer.
This is when Dead Boy wades into the fray. Being dead, he is much stronger and much faster than any of the regular humans there. He literally tears apart the Charnel Chimera, holding it off until John finds the magic holding the thing together and rips it away. That taken care of, Walker leaves, slightly disappointed that nothing was left to test. John goes back to ask Jeremiah some pointed questions and is led to a special private room where Jeremiah spills his secrets, in case it helps find Melissa.
They’re interrupted (after the story) by Hobbes, who has a ransom note and a knife on a platter. The knife was used to pin the note to the front door. None of the security measures went off. Again indicating an inside job. The note wants Jeremiah to give up every part of his empire, all of his money, if he wants to see Melissa alive again. If he agrees, he’s to go to a specific address (a parking garage) at a specific time. Its clearly a trap, so John insists on going instead.
Of course, the trap is rather for him than the Griffin. The kidnappers, who turn out to be the Salvation Army Sisterhood (mentioned in other books), are waiting for him and very well armed. The briefly show him Melissa, huddled next to a car but seemingly in good health, and tell him to back the hell off. They didn’t want to negotiate with the Griffin. They wanted John there to tell him that he really has no clue what’s going on and to not pursue it. They want to imprison him until this whole thing is over but John doesn’t agree to that.
He uses his gift to fire up the garage’s sprinkler system and since not all of the cars in the Nightside are cars, there is a general melee of angry creatures (and some cars) thinking they’re under attack. So they lash out at the nuns, who fire back. The Salvation Army sisterhood are warriors of god, though I can’t think that they’re at all Vatican approved. In the confusion, John heads for Melissa only one of the nuns accidentally shoots her before he can get there. Shocked and horrified by what she’d done, the nun throws down her gun and tries to run only to be eaten by one of the cars.
You’d think that being part of an immortal family would mean you’d be okay taking a few shots to the chest but whatever was in the nun’s guns did the trick. Melissa is dead. Only…it isn’t Melissa. It’s Polly and Polly has just enough time left to press a small golden key into John’s hands. Once everything has calmed down, the one surviving nun, Sister Josephine, decides that its time to come clean.
Melissa wasn’t kidnapped. She ran away. In a family where every sin and every pleasure has been done, what could a teenager possibly do to rebel? Become uber religious of course. Only what started out as rebellion turned into true faith for Melissa. And when she found out that she was set to inherit a fortune and a business that was built on something given from the Devil, she was horrified and turned to the Salvation Army Sisterhood for help.
Melissa herself brought them into the Hall. They left proof of their presence with little clues here and there, a footprint or a hand print etc. But why did Melissa just not run away? To confuse things. To have Jeremiah’s resources spread thin so they couldn’t possibly find her. Why the Salvation Army Sisterhood? For protection. Precious few people were willing to go head to head with the very well armored and not the least bit crazy nuns.
Sister Josephine brings John to a pocket dimension where they were keeping Melissa, hopefully a measure that would be enough to keep her out of his Sight. Unfortunately, she’s not there. All the nuns that were protecting Melissa are dead and dismembered. Melissa a is missing. The only thing that could do that? A demon. He’s broken into the pocket dimension and hauled Melissa off to Griffin Hall because the Devil aims to collect his souls and he means now.
Sister Josephine gets them back to the the general area of the Hall but unfortunately for both of them they are separated during transit and John himself ends up in the carnivorous jungle surrounding the hall. After a bit of bullying, John safely manages to run through the jungle and break into Griffin Hall. He finds all the security guards and servants just as dead and dismembered as the nuns.
John knows where this is going so down to the basement he goes where he finds all the Griffins crucified to the wall with the exception of Melissa, who is locked in a pentacle made of her family’s blood. She’s been beaten up simply because the demon could. And who is the demon? Have we seen him before? Yes, we have. It’s Hobbes the butler. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the butler did it! Hee!
Hobbes is there to collect all the Griffin’s souls for the devil, including Melissa’s if he can. Though because she is devout and has already taken her novice vows, he can’t immediately take her. He can, however, torture her until she breaks. Jeremiah, who genuinely loves his granddaughter, begs John to figure out a way to get her and his children free. His wife pitches a fit but he tells her essentially to shut up because she’s just as bad as he his.
John has a bit of sanctified wooden cross embedded in his dominant hand. Using Melissa as a distraction, he finds the original deal Jeremiah made by a combination of his gift and Polly’s key. With a simple ball point pen and his (hopefully) sanctified hand, he crosses out the part of the deal that refers to offspring and grandchildren. William, Eleanor and their respective spouses tumble from the walls and the lot of them barely escape the destruction of both the Griffin, his wife and the hall itself.
In the end, they all become mortal. Melissa sets up a trust fund for her parents and her aunt and uncle before selling off the Griffin’s businesses. She give all the money to charity (and the Salvation Army Sisterhood) and joins a contemplative nunnery (which is protected by the SAS). John also gets his payoff.
This book is good because it deals with the power struggle left behind after the Authorities die and it shows that John is determined to stay his own man. He’s never had a point where he’s free of what might be and now he has it. He doesn’t want to become a bad guy, despite his bad reputation. So he continues to do things his way. And it gives a few hints as to where Green will be going in future Nightside books. Rating: A.