Tobacco Terrorism Thriller Comes out Smokin'

BOOKS 10-11
Associated Press Writer

The only problem with "Gasp!" is trying to figure out whom Hollywood will cast as the dying journalist-turned-terrorist whose vendetta against the cigarette industry kills almost 400 people.

Because as sure as the sun rises in the east, there will be a movie version of Frank Freudberg's novel that takes a scary look at what a terrorist could do to the tobacco industry if he put his mind to it.

"Gasp!" (Barricade Books, $21) opens at the Philadelphia home of Martin Muntor, the broken-down news editor whose diagnosis of terminal lung cancer has spurred him to take revenge on the industry that his cigarette habit has supported for years.

His attacks are even more successful than he had anticipated, and soon the FBI and the tobacco industry's private goon squads are searching for the man who calls himself Virgil.

The only problem is that Virgil is good at being evil -- he avoids capture as the bodies pile up like cigarettes coming off the assembly line.

Enter Tommy Rhoads, a tobacco company investigator who begins to realize that he might agree with the logic, if not the end result, of what Virgil is doing.

Rhoads has a number of problems, including alcoholism, but he matches wits with Virgil and outsmarts the FBI as he helps track Virgil down in a conclusion that will keep readers riveted until the final page.

There are distractions along the way. There's a less-than-believable relationship between Rhoads and a tobacco company employee whose husband is dying of emphysema; and a positively dastardly tobacco company president whose biggest worry is what the rash of deaths is doing to his stock portfolio.

Hollywood's leading actors should be asking their agents about this one. If a movie version turned out to be as riveting as the book, it would be a big winner.

AP-WS-10-11-96 1024EDT

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