Sunday, August 15, 2021

Bring Back Cerberus

Bring Back Cerberus
by Phillip Gwynne
Recommended Ages: 13+

If Dominic Silvagni asked the classics prof at his elite, Queensland boys' prep to explain what Cerberus is, he'd have learned that it's the three-headed hell-hound from Greek mythology that Harry Potter knew as Fluffy. But what he actually asks, after receiving a text in Latin, is that his life is being threatened ("Schoolboy, you're dead meat"). But that's literally the least of Dom's problems. He has a chance of making it to the world youth games, if nothing messes up his training as a middle distance runner. But it seems everything is doing just that. The third installment of a debt to a secretive, all-powerful, all-knowing organization known (but not very widely) as The Debt requires him to steal a prototype for a cellphone that doesn't exist yet. A ruthless private eye wants him to do some of his dirty work, and knows just the sort of threats that will make Dom comply. An equally ruthless billionaire scrobbles the kid at gunpoint, for his own troubling ends.

To function under all this pressure, Dom must risk blowing up his running hopes, his school career, his family, his fragile relationship with the girl he loves, and the feelings of the kid down the street who just came out of a coma that Dom feels kinda responsible for. He has to say and do some nasty things, develop an easy conscience with things like lying, hacking and stealing, and learn to act like way more of a jerk than he knows he ought to. The carrot is that if he completes this assignment and three more after it, he'll be free of The Debt. The stick is that if he fails, he'll lose a pound of flesh. Really.

Dom takes bigger risks in this book than in the previous two installments, moving around in a wider range of dangerous spots in the Gold Coast area of Australia, getting caught ditching the unditchable school, making enemies, hurting friends and generally doing some morally questionable stuff for an organization whose agenda he hasn't even begun to understand. Meanwhile, trouble is brewing at home and his shenanigans are at the heart of it. It'll most likely only grow in the books to come, making you wonder whether he hadn't been better off surrendering that pound of flesh at the start. Kind of a teen spy caper with a hero who keeps getting in deeper trouble, it'll leave you wondering what in the south of Queensland will be left standing when Dom's debt is paid.

This is the third installment of "The Debt," a six-book series by the Australian author of several children's books including The Queen with the Wobbly Bottom, and a number of other YA novels such as Jetty Rats and Swerve. Other titles in this series include Catch the Zolt, Turn Off the Lights, Fetch the Treasure Hunter, Yamashita's Gold and Take a Life.

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