Gasp!: A Novel of Revenge

Frank Freudberg, Author Barricade Books $21 (304p) ISBN 978-1-56980-071-3
The villain of this unabashedly pulpy thriller is a bitter, professionally disappointed lifelong smoker who was diagnosed with lung cancer on the day his health insurance policy was canceled. Martin Muntor's plan is to kill 400 innocent people with cyanide-laced cigarettes, all in an effort to destroy Nick Pratt, the CEO of TobaCo, Inc., the company that manufactures Muntor's brand. Muntor's vendetta against Pratt isn't more personal than that, but this debut's hectically busy plot mostly obviates the need for a more plausible motive. The book's shambling hero, Thomas Rhoads (known as T.R.), is an alcoholic who heads up TobacCo's corporate security when he's not quitting his job in a huff and throwing away his pension in Atlantic City. T.R. is a fall guy, treated with overt contempt by Pratt and all the scurrying FBI personnel trying to track down Muntor, but he's inexplicably attractive to women. He sleeps with two female employees of TobacCo who hold dangerously sensitive positions. The book's best character is Dr. Beatrice Trice, who becomes T.R.'s mentor on the case and actually solves it herself. She's a cross between Sherlock Holmes and dear old Mom, if Mom were a brilliant psychiatrist. Muntor would be the novel's main attraction if his character were better developed, but the reader barely knows who he is as he exacts his predictable revenge. Instead, the unrelenting focus is on T.R., whose self-flagellation and boozy regrets render stillborn any possible suspense in this wildly sensational cloud of smoke. 50,000 first printing; $50,000 ad/promo. (Sept.) Mystery
Reviewed on: 06/03/1996
Release date: 06/01/1996
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