Review: A Decent Ransom by Ivana Hruba

decent_ransom.jpg Ivana Hruba
258 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Bernadette Gooden

A Decent Ransom is a fascinating first adult novel from Ivana Hrubra that takes us deep into the psyches of the main protagonists. It is the story of a simple kidnap plan that goes horribly wrong because our inner lives can be so different to outward appearances and physical realities.

Set in a large country town or the outskirts of a city in Australia it is the story of Phoebus, a 15-year-old boy who lives with his brother Kenny, a young adult, in an isolated farmhouse. They are marginalised kids from a background of abuse and poverty. Abandoned by their parents and abused by an uncle, they fend for themselves working at a truck stop. Phoebus has left school and is basically Kenny's domestic slave, subservient to his needs. Kenny is a borderline psychotic who behaves wildly, egged on by substance abuse. However, there is a lot of love between them. They only have each other.

They have befriended two young Chinese prostitutes, Janelle and Lien. Kenny is in love with Janelle. Wanting to start a better life for them all he comes up with a plan to kidnap a local woman, Kathryn, and extract a ransom from her rich husband, Rupert.

Things start going wrong when Rupert won't pay the ransom.

The story is told through the eyes of Phoebus, Janelle, Kathryn and Rupert. We are taken into their thoughts and the truths about their lives, which are not what they appear to be from the outside. Phoebus and Janelle convey the character of Kenny to the reader. His character, actions and philosophy on life drive the story and affect everyone in it, but he never speaks for himself as the others do.

Finely layered and compelling, this is a well-written thriller about the rich inner landscapes that can exist in bleak surroundings. Hrubra does particularly well developing the relationship between Phoebus and the kidnapped woman. He looks after her and protects her through to the end, even though he is aware that she has an agenda he doesn't agree with to get revenge on her husband.

How often is there an enormous difference between what we think and what we say and do? This is conveyed particularly well in the book by Janelle, whose beautiful expression of her yearnings and inner feelings to her self is contrasted in the story with how she is perceived. She has a poor command of English and a degrading job as a dancer and prostitute in men's club with a mind that resonates with hope and love and poetry.

In A Decent Ransom the fates of all the characters, driven by madness, greed, love, revenge and hope for something better, come together within a clever plot that moves with humour and pathos to a satisfying conclusion in this well crafted and totally absorbing story.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on May 13, 2009 3:11 PM.

2009 Melbourne Prize was the previous entry in this blog.

Reading Notes: Dying Inside by Robert Silverberg is the next entry in this blog.

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