Paperback (also available as an e-book), 978-1-9454-1956-0, 328 pgs., $18.95
July 4, 2020
Rick Treon’s Let the Guilty Pay is a dark, absorbing, complex suspense thriller set in the risky realms of oil pipeline construction and one worker’s internal battles with truth.
Bartholomew John Beck had seen how a West Texas neighbor was brutally murdered. Indeed, his testimony had helped send the victim’s lover to death row. Later, Beck also wrote a best-selling true-crime book about the case. But he had lied about one crucial aspect of what he had witnessed and let an innocent man be convicted.
Two decades later, the man is still on death row, fighting to stay alive. Meanwhile, Beck’s brief writing career has faded and died. Now he’s working as a laborer on a pipeline project near Amarillo. He has a few job friends, a friend’s couch, a daily routine, and little else.
Then, new trouble bursts out suddenly like a dangerous oil spill. At Beck’s work site, he discovers a new murder staged exactly like the one he saw so many years ago. Someone else knows what he didn’t reveal the first time.
Treon, a veteran journalist who has worked for several Texas newspapers as a reporter and editor, clearly subscribes to the “write what you know” approach to creating fiction. While penning Let the Guilty Pay, Treon spent extended time at a pipeline project, observing how workers spend their time on and off the job. His previous book, Deep Background, also a thriller, is set in the world of investigative journalism in the Texas Panhandle.
For readers, the payoff is an atmosphere both realistic and informative within the flow of the plot. At one point, after Beck lays out his attraction to a female co-worker named Jillian, he details their low-end jobs:
“We were welders’ helpers. As the title suggests, our job was to do the bidding of our welders. Fetch their tools. Bring them water. Clear their pickups of empty beer cans in the morning, then fill their coolers with new eighteen-packs covered in convenience store ice. Each helper had one welder—I worked for my best friend Jorge, she helped my old friend, Paul—and everything we did affected their reputations.”
Treon also knows how to crank up tension levels quickly in his prose. For example, after a female worker loudly rebuffs Beck’s attentions in front of witnesses and disappears for a long weekend, Beck is the one who finds her murdered when work resumes at the job site. Truth is demanded during his questioning, and Beck finds himself struggling. “If I’d been hooked up to a lie detector test, Lieutenant Johnson would’ve cuffed me on the spot. I tried to ignore the adrenaline and focus. Despite how my body was reacting to his question, I hadn’t killed [her].”
The book also brings forth other characters, subplots, and timelines tied to Beck’s past and why he lied about the first murder. Let the Guilty Pay provides a polished and absorbing debut for Rick Treon’s forthcoming Bartholomew Beck series of thrillers.
Rick Treon is the award-winning author of Deep Background and the Bartholomew Beck thriller series, including the novel Let the Guilty Pay and prequel novella, Live with the Truth. His short story “The Other Man's Daughter” was published in the Texas High Plains Writers 2020 centennial anthology, With Words We Weave: Celebrating the Past. Treon's essays have been syndicated across Gannett Media and featured on literary websites The Thrill Begins and BestThrillers.com. He has also written for journalism nonprofit Big If True.
Prior to writing fiction, Treon worked as a reporter and editor for several newspapers in Texas. His journalism career began at the University of Texas at Austin, where he served as sports editor of the Daily Texan. He later worked for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Amarillo Globe-News, and the Kerrville Daily Times.