Ransom by David Malouf Vintage, HK$104 David Malouf's Ransom tells a familiar tale - one taken from Homer's Iliad. King Priam of Troy has just seen his son, Hector, killed by Achilles. Patroclus refuses to give the body a proper burial. And so Priam goes to beg for his son's return. It is one of literature's truly great episodes: even Brad Pitt's appalling performance in the movie Troy couldn't ruin it, although credit goes mainly to Peter O'Toole's Priam. The title is a sort of joke - about titles. For the only ransom Priam acknowledges is himself: his original name, Podarces, actually means ransom. He may be carting enough gold to build a golden horse, but it is his word, his reputation - his very soul - that will carry the day. The first part of the story is told on the journey from Troy to Achilles' camp, as a back and forth between the king and his only companion, a carter named Idaeus. Despite what we know about the outcome, the build-up of tension is almost unbearable, whatever awaits Priam: death, humiliation or, even worse, refusal. Malouf's version may be short, but every page is packed with emotion. 'I have endured what no one on earth has ever done before,' Priam says. Malouf makes you believe it.