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Reviewed by Ray Hosler for Readers' Favorite
The Devil to Pay by Gary Blackwood takes the reader on a journey through time. First, it’s the 1960s in a Midwest college town where the Vietnam War and the draft hang heavily on the minds of students, including the main character Simon Hannay. He and his buddy Mack want nothing to do with the war and try to avoid the draft. Simon buries himself in his graduate studies, including research for his master’s thesis on portrayals of the Devil in medieval and Renaissance literature. Here’s where the book blossoms into a mystery with plenty of skullduggery and a dose of 16th-century history. Simon stumbles on an obscure document in the library that turns out to be a code, whose author was marked for death by the Inquisition. Simon uses his skills in cryptography to crack the code, enlisting the help of a mysterious Portuguese student named Gabriela, who he meets at a karate class he teaches. This martial arts discipline plays a role in Simon’s ability to focus on the task as he battles unknown enemies, as well as Alec, who vies for Gabriela’s attention and whose ties to a chemical company become relevant later in the story.
The Devil to Pay is a sweeping work of historical fiction and a thriller that involves the reader from start to finish. I was especially captivated by the science of cryptography, well described in layman’s terms by the author. The inclusion of a first-hand account by a Portuguese explorer is both engaging and relevant to the story. It brings depth and takes the reader to an entirely different part of the world and time in history, which blends perfectly with the plot. Gary Blackwood expertly develops his many characters to make them memorable, especially his condescending and conniving professor Dr. Espinoza. Kudos to the author for developing a plot that incorporates 16th-century history with life in the 1960s and the Vietnam War. The ending is a real cliffhanger. You’re there with Simon and students facing off against the military, clouds of teargas stinging their eyes and lungs. What does this have to do with the Inquisition and the Devil? Read the book and find out!