Monday, August 2, 2021

Catch the Zolt

Catch the Zolt
by Phillip Gwynne
Recommended Ages: 13+

Until Dom Silvagni turned 15, he was just a privileged kid living in a rich suburb of Gold Coast City in Queensland, Australia. His only worries were training as a middle distance runner, crushing on homeschooled neighbor girl Imogen, whose mother won't let her out of her sight, and not getting punched in the gut by the local golden boy, Tristan, whose parents somehow don't see what he really is. On his birthday, Dom learns that the men in his family have a deep, dark secret – a debt to an organization so terrifying that it is never spoken of, and if you have to speak of it, the name to call it is The Debt. Because of this debt, Dom will have to complete six tasks assigned by The Debt and if he fails, they'll take a pound of flesh. Literally.

At first, Dom is just unnerved by the idea of The Debt, which manifests itself to him as a seemingly all-knowing, all-powerful, omnipresent force that won't brook even the tiniest rebellion against its rules. Rules like: You don't tell anybody about it. You don't ask for anybody's help. And you don't even think about going to the police. It only takes one disturbing lesson to drive that home for him. So when The Debt assigns him something north of impossible but south of ridiculous as his first task, Dom doesn't laugh. He can't afford to.

His task: to catch a teenage cat burglar, adrenaline junkie, escape artist and social media sensation named Otto Zolton-Bander, who has already been caught by one of Australia's most ruthless private detectives – then somehow escaped. The Zolt has eluded the cops, crashed-landed four private planes and attracted a following of almost 1.5 million fans. To catch him, Dom will have to risk blowing up a relationship that he cares about (with Imogen) and cultivating one that he doesn't (with Tristan). He'll also find himself mixing it up with armed psychopaths, committing a midnight breakin in a bad neighborhood, running a footrace against junkyard dog mean competitors, cruising into danger in fancy cars, boats and aircraft, and questioning and being questioned by dangerous people at both ends of the socio-economic spectrum.

Despite being only a teenager, Dom quickly develops the resourcefulness and insight to move around freely in an adult-sized world full of dangers that don't care how old you are, and to make keen observations that more mature and book-smart people missed. His adventure is a little bit like a James Bond spy caper and, again, a little like a hardboiled detective story, with practically every scene confronting him with a different surprise, a different clue, a perilous encounter from a different quarter. And he manages it all without really knowing whose interest he's serving and what they really want. And if this is only his first task, just ask yourself where the next five tasks will take him and whether he'll have what it takes to accomplish them. Then see if you can rest until you get hold of the next book in the series.

This is the first installment of "The Debt," whose further titles include Turn Off the Lights, Bring Back Cerberus, Fetch the Treasure Hunter, Yamashita's Gold and Take a Life. For some reason I'm afraid to investigate for fear of how deep the rabbit hole goes, Amazon will only sell "new" copies of this book at usurious prices and Fantastic Fiction doesn't list this series among its author's works. Nevertheless, I take it that Gwynne is an Australian author, known for such young adult titles as Deadly, Unna? and Nukkin Ya and Jetty Rats and Swerve, as well as several children's picture books. And I can verify that all six books in this series exist, because I've seen them at a local bookstore – though, when I've bought them all, they might be gone for good. So, hurry and get them, mate!

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