Thomson had a difficult job here. Fundamentally, it's about women getting revenge on men, but how do you do that without condemning an entire gender? Thomson tries and, though it's not a clean landing, succeeds at presenting a balanced portrayal of both men and women, making it clear we're all capable of good and evil; Nancy's going after the men who have let that evil out more than most. Given Scotland's laws regarding guns, don't expect the same sort of revenge scenarios an American novel would have. Nancy has to show more ingenuity and more of a willingness to toe that line between becoming what she hates, because she doesn't have access to them. The torture scenes border on torture porn at times, managing to go into too much detail but never quite turning into something that made me have to put the book down.
Along those same lines, I'm going to get nitpicky for a moment here, because the subtitle Die Hard for Girls bothers me. To me, Die Hard implies being trapped in an (insert setting of choice here) and the hero having to shoot their way out, killing a lot of bad guys, and saving the day in the process. Hell to Pay doesn't represent this scenario, not even a little bit. What Hell to Pay is, however, is a revenge tale as women lash out at the evil and corrupt men in their lives. Also, unlike a summer blockbuster action flick, Nancy shows remorse and thinks carefully through her actions. This is not a run-and-gun tale; if anything, it's a more honest portrayal of the emotions and struggles of people who have been victimized. Just, you know, with more actual revenge. One of the things I did like is it's not just Nancy who stands up for herself. The other women in Hell to Pay are mistreated in some truly horrible fashions, but they all find and demonstrate a strength of character in their own ways that I really admired.
Nancy is a complicated protagonist, torn between her desire for revenge and her own moral compass. In many ways, I think it would have been easier to turn off that aspect of her and transform Nancy into another emotionless action hero, but despite my complaints regarding the Die Hard subtitle, I prefer her this way. Revenge is not so easy when you acknowledge there's another human being involved, but Nancy isn't a pushover either. When she decides to hurt someone, it's done with careful deliberation, which both adds to the strength of her character and the horror of the situations she creates.
Hell to Pay is short, coming in at 134 pages, and it maintains a brisk pace from start to finish because of that. The pacing felt off to me at times and the details fuzzy. Hell to Pay tries to present twists and turns where there aren't any. It's mostly a straightforward book with the real mystery a set-up for future volumes of the same series.
While Hell to Pay let me down in terms of what I was looking for, I found something else within its pages: a more honest portrayal of revenge and the strength women are capable of calling upon.
Three Creative Revenge Scenarios out of Five