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Home > Reviews > Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business

Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business

Author Anja Shortland

ISBN No 97801 9881547 1

Review date 25/03/2019

No of pages 249

Publisher Oxford University Press

Publisher URL

Year of publication 15/03/2019


Our Review


£ 18.99

Talking of risk, what’s riskier than kidnap for ransom? An academic has taken a cool look at how the trade in human lives is ‘a well-established business in many areas ... and practised by criminals, rebels and terrorists alike’.

Despite well-publicised (dramatic) cases, most victims (journalists, charity aid workers, cargo ship crews, oil well engineers) are safely ransomed. Specialist insurers such as Hiscox have created ‘a system of supporting services’; the firm for instance retains the consultancy Control Risks. Shortland stresses how ingenious it all is; the key underwriters at Lloyd’s of London have their desks within a few metres of each other; everyone wants to avoid a crisis, and violence, whether guerrillas in forests or men in suits; insurers want to limit payments and copy-cats, though some governments do pay ransoms for their citizens, while some allow ‘private resolutions’.

Shortland argues that kidnappers make rational choices; and that a UN ban on ransoms for terrorists is counter-productive; ‘it puts lives at risk and increases the returns to terrorist kidnaps’. While security consultants see themselves as problem-solvers, Shortland, clearly fascinated by this niche ‘criminal market’, sees it as ‘ordering grey transactions with the economic under-world’. In protocol terms it’s no different from someone asking for money after ransomware locked your IT.

Kidnap: Inside the Ransom Business, by Anja Shortland, published 2018 by OUP. Visit