Sudden Death Book Review

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Sudden Death

by Michael Balkind

Grade: D
Teacher’s Comments: I can’t recommend it for either the golf or for the mystery.

I really wanted to like this book. It’s got an interesting premise and the author seems like a genuinely nice guy.

Unfortunately, I did not enjoy it at all; indeed, it was a chore to finish.

The plot of the book involves a series of death threats against Reid Clark, an elite golfer who has a reputation on Tour as a “bad boy.” On course tirades and ill-treatment of those around him are his stock in trade. His antics have earned him enemies, and one of them is set on murder. In spite of this, Reid continues to play on, as the pressure from both winning and from the threats increase.

So far, so good. But as I was reading the first sentence of the book, the warning sirens went off in my head:

“Plunk. The unique sound of Reid Clark’s golf ball hitting the bottom of the cup was,without question, the most satisfying sound he could hear. But in this case, he had to settle for the roar of the massive crowd as he sunk his 12-foot-putt, winning his sixth PGA tournament this season.”

That’s a lot of wins in an entire season. But Reid, we soon find out, has accomplished this feat before the Masters. Six victories before the first major of the year. That’s twice as many as Tiger has ever managed. As there are typically just a dozen or so events before the Masters—including silly ones like the Pebble Beach—six victories is ridiculous.

But, I thought, the author surely knows that. He’s just trying to establish his character as the Uber-Golfer.

It wasn’t much further on that I decided that Balkind really doesn’t know much about tournament golf. In one scene, the PGA Commissioner [sic] announces that they’ve decided to hold a pro-am at the Masters:

“Hi I’m Bill Taylor, Commissioner of the PGA and I’d like to welcome you all to Augusta. I wanted to take a moment to explain why we decided to take a break from tradition and play a pro-am before the Masters. The request has come up in past years and we’ve always declined. This year we figured, why not.”

Good heavens. The Masters is run by Augusta National, not by the PGA. Never in a million years would Augusta National allow the PGA to decide whether or not there’s a pro-am. And I’m pretty sure that Balkind doesn’t really mean the PGA anyway. He means the PGA Tour. The two are separate entities. I can’t see the Commissioner of the PGA TOUR introducing himself as the Commissioner of the PGA.

All credibility was lost with me at that point.

There are other missteps. For example, in the novel, the Tour apparently has announced that another behavior incident from Reid might jeopardize his eligibility. In reality, fines and punishments are hush-hush. He also refers to rounds during a medal play tournament as a “match.” In golf, the term “match” has a specific meaning.

More jarring plot elements: the President of the US is so inspired by Reid’s foundation that he writes a check on the spot (there no way his handlers would let him give a spontaneous donation, let alone one to a known jerk); Reid signs a 100 million golf ball contract, and at the celebration party, diamonds are hidden in the reveler’s ice as a promotion (no company lawyers would vet this); at the post Masters’ press conference, Reid asks the reporters to delay the information he is about to give them for 24 hours (these things now are broadcast live on the Golf Channel, among others).

Another critical point in the story is that after the first threat, the former bad-boy decides to reform and become Mr. Nice Guy. He does so basically by throwing money around. Reid buys pizza for a random group of kids in a pool, throws around $300 tips to waitresses and sends his relatives on spending sprees with no limits credit cards. After a few pages of this, I thoroughly despised the character and was actually cheering for the assassins.

None of the other characters came alive for me, either. They were wooden, reminding me of nothing less than a group of high school thespians in a play written by one of their science teachers. Dialog seemed to me forced. Balkind has a tin ear for the rhythms of conversation.

The worst part is that—after leading me through two hundred pages with the self-indulgent Reid Clark—the entire “mystery” is resolved in two pages.

Your mileage with this book may vary, but I just can’t recommend it.

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