Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Decent Ransom by Ivana Hruba

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

Paperback: 272 pages
Publisher: Kunati Inc., 2008
Price: $14.95
ISBN-10: 1601641621
ISBN-13: 978-1601641625

In her first adult novel, author Ivana Hruba tells the story of a kidnapping gone awry. I suppose saying so beckons a definition of a successful kidnapping, which would depend on one's perspective -- as either the kidnapper or the kidnapped. We have in A Decent Ransom the perspectives of both. It is perhaps, then, up to the reader to determine if the unusual twists in this particular kidnapping end well or not (and I don't intend to give the twists away entirely).

This something of a roller coaster ride of perspectives is both the strength and weakness of Hruba's novel. Three cheers for the juggling it requires for an author to switch adeptly between one character to another, one perspective to another. That's a trick, and Hruba, mostly, carries it off with skill and gusto. Where she misses, and that juggled plate comes on occasion crashing to the floor, is by using first person ("I") for ALL perspectives, ALL characters. Since we are talking about a relatively large number of characters, this can lead to unnecessary confusion. The chapters are usually not too long, and each chapter tends to switch characters and perspectives. Maybe my mind is aging, but for me, this meant that I had to read sometimes as much as a full paragraph into the chapter before I could identify through which character's eyes I was now peering. More than once, this would force me to read to identify, then go back to the beginning again and read the same text a second time for context, now that I knew who was talking. That's just awkward. If the author really wants to write always in first person, then perhaps a chapter's heading might work as an identifier.

That gripe aside, we can get to the good news: A Decent Ransom is well written, fresh, fun, creative. Hruba knows what she's doing on a keyboard. Her characters have shape and color and voice. They are capable of pulling heart strings as well as tickling funny bones. It works. They work. And, that rare jewel too few writers wear? Hruba has it pinned front and center. She can tell a story and she can also tell it well (two markedly different skills). Sample this:

"The hundred-thousand-dollar question has the face of a sad clown balancing across a tightly stretched rope. One false step and ...

"The boy is no fool. He waits patiently. Slumped in the corner like a bag of wet clothes, he evokes the smell of familiar things. Chopped garlic. Cold pie. Lonely old men. Pool shop owners dissatisfied with marriage. Burnt oil and burgers. Hair grease. Jasmine tea. And somewhere in between, there's Bid. Steaming like a bucket of warm pee in the hot, dusty weather, he pumps petrol. Up and down, the old fashioned way he cleans the windscreens. Smiling at the tourists but watching me. Always watching. His eyes like a fish's. His cheeks like an old woman's ass. His hands like a turtle's claws. And always I said no."

See what I mean? Bravo! Hruba plays on all the reader's senses and that's what makes a story memorable. Add a quirky storyline of kidnapped young wife, straying husband, simple-minded kidnapper, the used (or is she the user?) mistress, the abusive partner in crime, the oriental stripper, stir it up with intrigue and revenge, and you are in for a fun ride. As long as you can keep them all straight -- enjoy!