Novel hits on troubles that are close to home.
The Last High
Daniel Kalla (Simon & Schuster)
$22 | 308 pp
The relative quiet of Dr. Julie Rees’ shift in the emergency room of St. Michael’s Hospital is shattered by the arrival of multiple teenage victims suspected of overdosing on a mystery drug.
The exhausting and emotionally charged evening that follows the unexpected ER patient admissions kicks off a series of events that offer a sobering glimpse into the drug overdose crisis that grips Vancouver — in real life as well as on the page.
In his latest novel, author and ER doctor Daniel Kalla explores the fictional release of a deadly drug, dubbed The Last High, or TLH. The drug, which is pretty much 100 per cent, pure carfentanil, kills almost everyone who ingests it. From a high-flying pilot looking for a good time, to a longtime drug user, the unknown substance prompts panic within the health care community as frontline workers begin to see a cascade of troubling overdoses.
For some, the story may sound all too familiar.
Unfolded through a cast of characters that include a handsome Vancouver Police Department detective, a teen with something to hide, drug lords with a vendetta and a drug dealer with nothing to lose, The Last High is an entertaining, if slightly eerie read.
If you’ve driven through Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, or looked up the latest statistics on drug overdoses in the city — paramedic-attended overdoses have quadrupled in less than three years, according to a report from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control for Feb. 2020 — you’re aware of the ongoing issues surrounding drug use in the city.
Kalla’s novel puts it further into perspective, while also providing a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes action that first responders such as doctors, nurses and police officers experience when faced with an escalating number of overdose victims.
What came as a bit of surprise in this book was how hidden-in-plain-sight the seedy system of drug manufacturing, sales and use seemed to be. Given the realistic context, and Kalla’s informed writing style, it doesn’t take too large a leap of the imagination to wonder just how much of what was written in the novel is actually happening, right here. Every day.
In Dr. Rees, Kalla creates a character that is enormously competent and confident, yet also deeply flawed. Battling her own demons, it’s easy to feel a bit protective of the character. She’s smart, she’s badass, but she’s also carrying some serious damage. So, she’s human.
And it’s that human element that makes Kalla’s books such a good read.
The characters are understandable, approachable and relatable. You want to follow their every move and find out where they end up. This ability to create characters woven throughout a fast-paced story is what keeps readers turning the page of Kalla’s bestselling books. And, of course, coming back for more.