Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Catch the Zolt: The Debt Instalment One - Phillip Gwynne

All up, Dom Silvagni doesn’t have much to complain about. If you took out of the equation Tristan Jazzy’s annoying habit of leaving his sister’s bike lying about for Dom to almost trip over on his early morning run – made all the more annoying when it happens right in front of Imogen Havilland’s bedroom window – then life is pretty good. Dom lives in luxury with his parents and younger brother and sister, and one-legged grandfather, Gus, in Halcyon Grove on the Gold Coast. Gus is also Dom’s coach and there is not much that takes priority over running in Dom’s world.

However, on Dom’s fifteenth birthday everything changes. First he is stalked by a mysterious white van on his morning run, and after hearing a whooshing sound, wakes up on the pavement, unable to account for four minutes of his life, with only a mosquito-bite-like mark on his hand to show for it. Then, after discussing secret men’s business with his father and Gus, Dom finds out that he is responsible for clearing an ancient family debt by performing six formidably difficult tasks. The first instalment is to catch the Zolt, a seventeen-year-old who has stolen cars, boats and even light planes from nearby Reverie Island. If he fails to deliver, The Debt will take their pound of flesh. As they did with Gus.

This leads Dom on a thrilling adventure, where he must befriend his arch-enemy, the self-centred Tristan, and watch him try to seduce Imogen, Dom’s friend since childhood. As the race to find the Zolt moves to Reverie Island, it is impossible to discern the difference between allies and enemies; Dom must use every ounce of courage and resourcefulness he can muster, not only to preserve his family’s honour, but to preserve his life.

This adventure series, targeted unashamedly at upper primary school (and I would say teenage) boys, is Phillip Gwynne’s first foray into writing for this demographic. It is a ripper of a yarn – suspenseful, cleverly plotted, well-crafted and funny. The text works hand-in-glove with the reader’s intelligence and assumed general knowledge which creates both the effect of rounding out the central character, Dom, through whose voice we hear the events of the story unfold, and aligning the reader to empathise with him in his quest. The target audience will identify with Dom’s strength of character as he negotiates his various predicaments, and be drawn into the story not only because of its page-turning quality but by the authenticity of the characterisation – well supported by voice, setting and subtext.

Some adroit foreshadowing in the first book sets down clues and sets the reader up to unravel the larger mystery as the series progresses.

Allen & Unwin 2013

(A version of this review appears in Magpies Vol 28, Issue 1, March 2013)

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