Book review – The Last High by Daniel Kalla


Book review – The Last High – During a party in a well-to-do suburb of Vancouver, seven teenagers are rushed to the emergency room of a local hospital, as they mysteriously overdose from drinking the punch at the party that was spiked with an opioid that is alleged to be fentanyl; all but two of the teens in question are dead on arrival. One will make a complete recovery, while the other constantly fights for her life.

A few days later, a senior airline pilot during an overnight stopover in Vancouver, dies from an overdose of an illicit drug he buys from a dealer outside his hotel. And then a few days after that, a Vancouver lawyer, during a swanky party, immediately dies from taking a bought-from-the-street opioid. 

These mysterious deaths are too much for toxicologist and ER doctor Julie Rees, who treated the seven teens who overdosed during their party. Fearing a new opioid crisis that could arise on the streets of Vancouver with a little known drug that’s potentially deadlier than fentanyl, she teams up with police detective Anson Chen to find out what this new opioid is, and who is responsible for manufacturing and distributing it, before it kills more unsuspecting victims. 

Book review – The Last High by Daniel Kalla

This is the heart stopping premise of Daniel Kalla’s new medical thriller The Last High.

Similar to the approach that was used in Steven Soderberg’s acclaimed 2000 movie “Traffic”, the book takes a look at the Vancouver illicit drug scene from every aspect and every person who deal the drug and those who are directly and indirectly affected by it. From the Wei brothers, who use their thriving real estate business as a front for their narcotics trafficking for one of the violent Chinese triad gangs; to Markku, the Finnish-born dealer who insists that his addict clients use his drugs while accompanied by another person and carry Naloxone kits in case they overdose; to the chemist who “cooks” the drugs for the streets from raw materials that are smuggled from China in laptop computers; to the hard bitten addicts who inhabit Vancouver’s notorious east side; to the emergency room doctors who make it a daily part of their jobs to treat these addicts from overdosing on these new, yet deadly, opioids. 

Kalla, who is himself an emergency medicine doctor in Vancouver, uses his medical knowledge to a great extent in The Last High. Through the character of Dr. Rees, Kalla shows how a doctor in this kind of medical practice has to be a quick-thinking medical expert one moment, and a detective the next moment, as she employs these skills in order to find out what killed these innocent victims, and what can be done to take this new opioid off the streets before it kills even more people in dangerous proportions. As well, he focuses on the vulnerabilities that can plague these crusading doctors that have them ending up dealing with their own set of personal baggage (in this case, Dr. Rees recovering from her own drug addiction that proved to be almost self-destructive).

But if you want an engrossing, edge of your seat thriller that combines good detective work, corruption, savage criminal practices, a dark, seamy portrait of a large Canadian city, and a hard-hitting lesson on the medical and emotional effects of opioid drugs, then The Last High certainly fills that prescription. (Simon & Schuster, $22)

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By: Stuart Nulman –

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