, Derry, New Hampshire

December 26, 2013

Column: First-time author pens a first-class thriller

John Edmondson
Derry News

---- — My brief forays into fiction writing leave much to be desired. I wish I could create characters that consist of flesh and bone, not corrugated cardboard. I wish my dialogue mimicked the casual give-and-take of ordinary people, not the robotic drivel that fills the pages of my notebook.

I wish I could get my story to move, not drown in a mud pit, as I wax poetic and linger too long to describe the veins on a leaf.

I wish I were the kind of writer I am not, a writer like Ira Kalina, who’s written an excellent mystery filled with action, drama and intrigue.

Never heard of Ira Kalina? In the spirit of full disclosure, Ira is my brother-in-law, but that’s not why I’m writing this book review. This is Ira’s first work of fiction, years in the making, and it blew me away. It’s a tour-de-force, hold-on-for-dear-life page-turner. I read the last 150 pages in one sitting.

“Final Shot: A Psych ‘N’ Roll Mystery” tells the story of Dr. Ike Miller, a New York City psychologist and talk-radio host who reluctantly gets involved in a life-and-death family struggle involving heroic Holocaust survivors, a ruthless former Nazi, a crooked federal agent and a mountain of hidden treasure.

Rather than disclose the plot in detail, which reads like Dan Brown at his best, I’d like to focus on Ira’s estimable strengths as a writer. The setting is New York City, and through Ira’s economic use of specific detail, the reader smells, hears, and tastes those eclectic ingredients that commingle to create a vivid picture of America’s largest city.

It’s one thing for a writer to envision characters, it’s quite another to breathe life into them. Ike Miller, the protagonist, is a former college basketball star with a doctorate in psychology, but he’s also just a typical guy with typical guy problems -- a hit but mostly miss love life, father issues, and an old knee injury that crops up at the worst times. All the other significant characters are well developed and realistic. The antagonist, former Nazi Antonin Helm, is the epitome of evil. He reminds me of Lawrence Olivier’s turn as Dr. Christian Szell in “Marathon Man,” only more sadistic.

There are no wasted scenes in “Final Shot,” no passages of lengthy exposition that go nowhere. Only taut, expertly crafted scenes with dialogue that sounds like real people talking. And the story moves rapidly, as if fired from a proverbial cannon.

I got completely wrapped up in the world Ira creates for the reader. I’ve read plenty of mysteries and watched my share on television and at the movies, and just when I thought that I could predict Ira’s next move ... not so fast. There’s another twist, another turn, another angle that kept me guessing.

Don’t read “Final Shot” because Ira Kalina is my brother-in-law. Read it because it’s well-written, good, old-fashioned fun.

Go to the Amazon web site and type in “Final Shot.” It’s available in paperback or on Kindle. You won’t be able to put it down.

John Edmondson is a teacher in Hampstead.