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The Clarinetist by Herschel Katz - Review

Author's first novel propels the reader through a high-speed plot 

Self-published, 2019, in Israel

Softcover, 285 pages

Available at ESRA bookshops in Raanana and Modiin at NIS20; at Pomeranz in Jerusalem; and directly from the author This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Danny Kahn is a young, Jewish Canadian clarinetist who receives a scholarship to play in an Israeli youth wind band together with other lucky young Jewish winners from all over world. The author uses the music band as a means of bringing older teenagers together for a summer in Israel a year after the 6-Day War, to tour the country and meet people. Before leaving Canada, Danny is given a key by an Israeli woman living in Canada to deliver to a friend in Jerusalem. Thus begins a complex and convoluted mystery plot based in Israel involving not only Danny but his Canadian girlfriend, Israeli girls who would be happy to take her place and members of his band who would like to get involved—not only with the girls but with solving the plot.

The novel has all the makings of a lively, Jewish-Israeli updated Hardy Boys mystery with abstruse clues from the Bible to decipher, drug dealers and murderers to confound and ancient treasures to search for and return to their proper place. The fast pace and twisting plot keeps the reader's interest to the happy end, even if one must suspend reality; in real life, the teen hero would probably have been murdered by the villains. Drug dealers and Arab terrorists are not, for the most part, amateurs; they're calculating, vicious and dangerous. Since Danny is telling the story in first person, the reader knows that he will live.

I was a bit unnerved by the frequent "innuendos" and non-stop cerebral involvement with "hormonal" thoughts, graphic verbal plans and activities, especially by the young males who are spending two months abroad, far away from home and parental supervision. Whether or not this behavior is typical and unsurprising or whether the author includes it to titillate the reader, it's enough for one to wonder whether a parent would recommend the book to his teenage children, for whom it is meant.

But having said this, I must add there was one hysterical passage about a Scottish flautist who speaks in a broad Glaswegian accent and has "played in a fife 'n' drum brigade ever since (he) was a wee lad." His parents were divorced because "ma ol' man was always dune at the boozer or puttin'a few bob on the fillies. He was pissin' his wages away every week and my ma got fed up with it an' took the wains, me an' ma sister with her, oot of the hoose." "I dinae ken I was Jewish 'til I was twelve." When he told his classmates, they didn't know what to make of it and asked if he was a Protestant Jew or a Catholic Jew.

In another passage, Derrick, the trombone player, describes a band in which he participated composed of arthritic, half deaf WWII veterans performing in an old-age home of hearing-impaired residents. It was so funny that I laughed until my sides hurt.I could scarcely catch my breath.

The author lives in Jerusalem and plays the clarinet in an amateur wind band. He worked as a part time book reviewer and then decided to write his own novel. The action never lets up and the reader is propelled through the story at full speed.

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