Perhaps because my own family had more than a few “boundary issues” and privacy was at a minimum, I’ve always been fond of mysteries that focus on long-hidden family secrets. In her newest novel, Hell To Pay, Wendy Corsi Staub reveals more buried secrets than any genealogical excavator could possibly hope to find.
In many ways, this book—which is my first Wendy Corsi Staub in quite a few years, and I am not sure why—reminded me of a Mary Higgins Clark mystery. (And no, not just because they both have three names!) The pacing and characterization felt similar, and families are a staple of Clark’s work as well.
Jeremy Cavalon and Lucy Walsh survived the same kidnapper and killer in childhood. It cemented their friendship as children and as adults they fell in love and married. But Jeremy has never admitted the full truth of his own actions to anyone, and when an earthquake frees a serial killer with a God complex, Jeremy and Lucy are forced to contend with a past that won’t stay buried.
Even the killer has family baggage in this book, and it mirrors, for unexpected and unfortunate reasons, Jeremy’s own:
The bustling midtown hotel had been around for years. In fact, her father used to come here sometimes on busines—fitting, because it was his money that originally bought her way into this suite on the twenty-seventh floor.
After escaping from Bridgebury [prison], she was leery about going anywhere near the vacation house that had once belonged to her father.
What if the authorities somehow suspected she was alive and had the place under surveillance? That seemed far-fetched, though. Of all the places from her past, why would anyone ever expect her to return to that one?
“They won’t,” Chaplain Gideon assured her. “You have to go back. You have to get it. It’s the only way.”
Get it: the money
“It’ll be our little secret,” Daddy had told her on the long-ago day when he showed her the stacks and stacks of bills hidden beneath the floorboards in the carriage house loft. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“Not even Mommy?”
“Especially not Mommy. Promise?”
“Promise,” she’d said solemnly, only ten years old, but already aware of the growing tension between her parents.
A rich, psychotic, serial killer with daddy issues, a religious bent, and a grudge? What could be better? Not much, I tell you. So if you’re a fan of Mary Higgins Clark and haven’t tried Wendy Corsi Staub, give this book a shot.
Laura K. Curtis lives in Westchester, NY, with her husband and 3 dogs who’ve taught her how easily love can co-exist with the desire to kill. She blogs at Women of Mystery and maintains an online store at TorchSongs GlassWorks. She can also be found on Twitter and poking her nose into all sorts of trouble in various spots around the web.