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Golf Book Review: Michael Balkind's "Sudden Death" appeals to sports-minded fiction lovers

William K. WolfrumBy William K. Wolfrum,
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Sudden Death
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Growing up, I had two main obsessions - sports and reading. This was convenient, as it was very easy to combine these two passions. The Sporting News was always read cover to cover, as was Sports Illustrated. Going to a baseball game meant a program to read. And every morning the sports page from the local newspaper was my loyal companion.

Of course, there were also plenty of sports fiction to devour, especially in my pre-teen years. I eagerly read a series of books such as "Catcher with a Glass Arm" by Matt Christopher, and a host of other sports-related books that appealed both to a love of the game and a love for stories.

With the novel Sudden Death, author Michael Balkind has created that same type of reading experience, but for adults. Because while Sudden Death will not go down in the annals of literature as a classic, it's the type of book that an adult sports fan can enjoy both for the athletics and for the storytelling.

Sudden Death is the story of Reid Clark, the No. 1 golfer on the PGA Tour. Clark is an irritable sort, and his constant run-ins with the press give him the reputation, and the nickname of the PGA Tour's "Bad Boy." Nonetheless, Clark's prowess on the golf course makes him a winner in more ways than one, as a huge endorsement deal sets him up financially for life.

Unfortunately for Clark, someone's out to get him. He's besieged by threats on his life should he win an upcoming event. As the plot unfolds, suspects emerge then fall by the wayside and Clark's life becomes more precarious and the tension he suffers from becomes greater.

As to be expected from a first-time novelist, Balkind's prose can at times be hurried. While we are aware that Clark has a temper and a drive to be the best, we are given no real reasons or life experiences to show why he is that way. As the book begins, we see Clark as an arrogant, surly, somewhat misogynistic athlete whose main thrill is to win golf tournaments, though he's not even sure he really wants to do that any more. Basically, Balking has created a complex character in Clark, but doesn't fulfill that promise or give the reader insights into why he is that way and how those complexities evolved.

The same goes for many of the supporting characters who are for the most part one-dimensional. There's the agent who loves the thrill of the deal the way Clark loves the thrill of the victory. The caring family members who Clark (for reasons unclear) has not spent enough time with in the past. There are those assigned to protect Clark who are rough sketches of what security personnel should be.

The character that could have truly used some more development is Shane, the love interest of Clark. We know of her beauty and of her strength of character, but only because Balkind tells us she is beautiful and has strength of character. As a beginning author, Balkind truly falls into the trap of describing his characters, rather than allowing us to learn about them through their deeds and actions.

It would be unfair, however, to hold these faults against Balkind, as his book delivers on several fronts. The threats on Clark's life are well-spaced, lulling readers into getting to know about the life of an ultra-successful athlete before coming out of the blue to remind you that his life is in danger. In this, Balkind's pacing is smart, and his writing shows a flair for suspense.

In the end, a reader is able to see that the threats against Clark's life - instead of making him more bitter and shut in - make him a more open and accepting person. In Clark, Balkind has created a character who grows as the book progresses.

For those who enjoy some life-and-death suspense to go along with well-described sports action, Sudden Death is not a letdown. Balkind has created an interesting and readable story that those who grew up loving both sports and novels will truly appreciate.

More information

Sudden Death
Release Date: Oct. 31, 2007
Web site: www.michaelbalkind.com

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William K. Wolfrum keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation. You can follow him on Twitter @Wolfrum.

 
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