Hell To Pay
by Jackie Kessler, fantasy (2013, reissue)
Kessler Ink, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-304-12335-0


It's been a while, but Hell To Pay, the final book in Jackie Kessler's Hell On Earth series, is finally here. I mean, the trade paperback version of the book is finally here. The digital version was out last year, but since it was for Kindle (as per the links below), I couldn't get my hands on it until now. Since this book is the tail end of the series, readers new to everything should start from the beginning instead of tackling this one heads on.

While this book is the last one in the Hell On Earth series, the author is planning a spin-off series which is like the second act in the ongoing saga of our denizens from below. Therefore, I hate to break it to you if you are waving pom-poms for the succubus Jezebel, now a human called Jessie Harris, to settle down with her human boyfriend Paul Hamilton and live happily ever after. There are still some things for Jessie to do, so it's understandable that the author can't wrap things up for her this soon.

However, the way the author keeps the drama going on a bit longer between those two may make those rooting for these two feel like writing annoyed emails to the author. I have no problems with how the author did things here, but then again, I'm indifferent to Paul. I think Jessie could do better, as Paul is bland and dull where I am concerned.

So, the story. Well, Jessie is now human, but things are not going so well for her. As she tells another character in this story, all she wants is to love and to dance, but her past won't leave her alone. She discovers, to her dismay, that being human means that her former colleagues from Hell now consider her and Paul fair game. It's not fun to be at the other end sometimes, let's just say. Worse, someone is killing off strippers in the neighborhood. If that's not bad enough, Jessie discovers that she may still have some residual succubus powers that she can't control... or perhaps it's just some kind of power that is only now manifesting itself? And on top of that, the poor darling discovers an aspect of her relationship with Paul that may damage the love affair irreparably, and as the politics of Hell heat up, she may end up right in the middle of the mess.

I've always enjoyed this series, but I'm pleased that Hell To Pay manages to serve another generous serving of fun. Jessie has mellowed a bit in this one, but after what she went through, I'd be more surprised if she hasn't. She still manages to crack a generous amount of saucy one-liners, but she faces some difficult choices in this story. The author tackles this theme of difficult choices very well - while in the past I laugh with Jessie, here I actually go "Aww!" at several instances because the poor darling doesn't have it easy here. Her heart gets bruised, she discovers that many people she thought were close to her had been using her to advance the grand plot, and let's not forget that first love rarely goes as smoothly as the star-struck fools expected it too.

There are many things going on here, but the author puts everything together very well. The story flows at a solid pace, and while this story lacks dramatic violent confrontations with an ultimate big bad, the denouement - which is more emotional than anything else - is really satisfying. This denouement advances the evolution of Jessie from a carefree and self-absorbed succubus into a reluctant player of Hell's politics whose experiences make her wiser, if not always better or happier.

The only quibble I have is the way the author wrapped up the serial killer story line. The villain is predictable, not to mention a bit too much of a lazy stereotype, and his motivations as well as the driving force of his murderous spree are predictable as well. The rest of the story is well done, so this particular aspect of the story really stands out as its weakest link.

Still, Hell To Pay is a satisfying read that offers enough pathos of the woo-woo kind to balance its flashier urban fantasy elements. It's been fun, and I'm now annoyed that, so far, there doesn't seem to be any date announced for the publication of the next book with Jessie doing her thing in a new chapter of her story.

Rating: 86


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