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Herschy Katz - author of "The Clarinetist"

I get a fair number of books sent our way by Jewish writers, although, if truth be told – not as many as I used to receive. (That might be a reflection of the changing world of book publishing; more and more books are being published digitally without even going to print.)
As well, I do often receive requests from writers – or would-be writers, as the case may be, asking for advice how they can get a book published. What I invariably end up telling those individuals is that it’s one thing to get a book published, it’s another thing to get it distributed.

Even harder still, there are fewer and fewer newspapers interested in publishing book reviews – as the number of newspapers continues to decline, and quite often the ones that remain consider book reviews of lesser interest to the majority of their readers.
That being said, however, I would be derelict if I were not to at least consider reading a book that an author has taken the time to send my way – if the author has contacted me beforehand and asked me whether I - or perhaps someone else, would consider reading his or her book – and publishing a review of it. Further, that request is almost always accompanied with a further request for me to publish the review online – so that the author can use that review to engender further interest in the book.
I write all this as a prelude to what you are about to read, which is a review of a book sent to me a while back by an individual by the name of Herschel Katz, who lives in Israel.
The book jacket says this about the author: “Herschel Katz is an urban planner in Jerusalem, Israel and plays the clarinet in an amateur wind band that performs throughout the country. Several years ago, the author worked as a part time book reviewer, then decided to try writing his own story. He spent the last three years preparing this book. According to his wife, he has been happily married for thirty-one years.”
Katz’s book is titled “The Clarinetist”. Based on the author’s bio, it’s a case of writing what you know about.) When I spoke with Katz over the phone a while ago, he told me this book is aimed at the young adult market. I suppose it’s because the main characters are all older teens, although the period in which the book takes place is the 1960s, and teens back then were quite different from teens nowadays (no smartphones, for one thing.)

The problem is – the principal character, Danny Kahn, is incredibly gifted in so many ways. I’m not sure how many teens could relate to someone who’s not only brilliant, he’s well liked by his peers and his elders. Further, in addition to being a talented clarinetist, Danny also turns out to be a superb sleuth, solving one puzzle after another as the action moves from Montreal to New York, and then to Jerusalem. Oh yes, he’s also quite good looking and young women are irresistibly drawn to him.
Danny is a student at McGill, where he meets the beautiful Naomi Cooper, who also happens to be a talented pianist. Naomi’s father, however, a successful Montreal lawyer, apparently has some very shady business connections – and those connections prove to play a major role in the story.
Since it’s natural for a first-time novelist to write about places with which he or she is familiar, I wasn’t surprised to learn from Herschel Katz, in response to an email that I sent him, that he is a former Montrealer , who attended McGill, and who made aliyah in 1984.
I had also asked Katz whether he had served in the Israeli army. Here is his humourous reply: “I did serve in the IDF, in the Communications Division of the Northern Command. I never got into active combat although I was in on a couple of surreptitious operations in the 1980s. Some people who know me say that I was drafted into the IDF to boost its psychological warfare activities. I was put there to make the enemy feel over confident!”

As it turns out “The Clarinetist” weaves a fairly complicated plot, intertwining Danny’s interest in music with his emerging talent as a sleuth. Danny is chosen to go to Israel to participate in an orchestra composed of other talented young Jewish musicians from around the world. At the same time he finds himself drawn into a mysterious plot at the behest of someone with whom he has crossed paths in Montreal.
As the story unfolds, Danny finds himself getting enmeshed in one dicey situation after another. For anyone who has visited Jerusalem, many of the locations described in the book will seem quite familiar. (One particular aspect that intrigued me was Danny and his fellow students staying in a residence called “Shikunei Haelef”, located in the Hebrew University campus on Givat Ram. I myself lived in the same residence for a time when I was a student at the Hebrew University in 1975.)
While the storyline is intriguing and quite imaginative, the dialogue could use some improving. The characters speak in complete, grammatically correct sentences. How many teenagers do you know like that?
It’s not easy writing authentic sounding dialogue, but when you find yourself thinking, as I did throughout my reading of this novel, that it could use a good reworking by someone who could inject a more realistic tone into how the characters should be speaking, well – it can become quite the distraction.
Still, I applaud Herschel Katz for taking on the challenge of writing what turns out to be a well thought out story laced with clues that serve to tie the entire story together. It’s not quite on a par with “The Da Vinci Code” but, for a first foray into novel writing, “The Clarinetist” is quite good.
One final note: The book can only be purchased directly from the author.
Herschel Katz wrote the following: “Those interested in purchasing the book should contact the author by email. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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