GASP! by Frank Freudberg


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 An uninspired and often plodding first novel that attempts to register a warning about the horrors of smoking but ultimately bogs down in a tangled, snoozy plot. Martin Muntor, former journalist and hardcore smoker, has terminal lung cancer and doesn't plan to go quietly: He intends to bring down the whole tobacco industry with him. His idea of revenge against ToBacCo, Inc., the world's largest death-stick manufacturer, includes spiking several hundred packs of smokes with cyanide and FedEx-ing the tainted product to unsuspecting customers. Hundreds of ghastly deaths and an FBI manhunt later, an understandably alarmed ToBacCo CEO lurches into action, trying to spin a dire situation as the company's stock plummets in the face of a national cigarette recall. Enter Tom Rhoads, an alcoholic ex- security hack for ToBacCo. Cooperating with the feds (depicted here as typically clueless), Rhoads struggles against his own demons-- and a nefarious ToBacCo hired gun who's attempting to frame him for the murder of an industry researcher--and clings to Muntor's slippery tail. The psycho's killing spree continues, however, lending a Unabomber-jag to an already ripped-from-the-headlines storyline. Building toward a showdown with ToBacCo's CEO, Rhoads enlists the aid of a matronly seventysomething shrink, who ends up guiding the hapless and somewhat dense investigator toward the light. Rhoads also hooks up with a disgruntled ToBacCo employee--a source of top-secret information--and tries to stay one step ahead of a wicked secretary (in Freudberg's world, women are either vamps or victims). Besides Muntor, Rhoads has to contend with the unexpected discovery of a scheme to increase tobacco's addictive nicotine content. Failing both as a contemporary morality tale and as a game of cat-and-mouse, a debut that succeeds only in painting a desperate and convincing picture of disease-peddlers and sufferers who have drifted off the deep end. (First printing of 50,000; $50,000 ad/promo; author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 4th, 1996
ISBN: 1-56980-071-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Barricade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1996