Now that we are living on the age of "intolerance" and cries against and for moral policing, I could not have chosen a better timing to read this book. What if one person decide to clean up the nation off tobacco? And what could one man do? Read ahead.
Title: Find Virgil
Author: Frank Freudberg
Setting: USA, 1995
Muntor has the worst of luck - uncaring dad, a divorce, estrangement from his daughters, a recent lay off from his job as a journalist, insurance that runs out and to top it - stage IV cancer from passive smoking - thanks to his dad, ex wife and daughters, for he was the teetotaler who worshiped his body as temple, who exercised and ate right. But he does not want to quit his life without making a mark - teaching the rest of America a lesson on healthy living or rather the ill effects of smoking. Mind that the story is set in mid 90's, when there was a steady and drastic rise of smokers - especially among teenagers. He chooses to be Virgil from Dante's Divine Comedy by providing a poetic justice The way he chooses to kill unsuspecting smokers by tainting them with cyanide - 340s if you are into counting.
Thomas Rhoads a retired cop and PI, who has money troubles and an alcoholic brother, is forced into helping the FBI in solving the serial murder by Nick Pratt, the CEO of Big Tobacco Co (whose product Muntor has been tampering). TR retired as an honest cop with a reputation and quit Pratt's organization when he found his services were being used for not good cause.
Muntor's killing spree pushes the people and especially the common stock of the tobacco companies. He reaches to the mass by making Pratt read out the General Surgeons' note on "ill effects of smoking" and even making all the Tobacco manufacturers to donate to research on curing cancer. TR tries with the help of Dr Trice to read Muntor's mind and plan - only to realize Muntor exactly had wanted him to do that.
The story ends with a bang when Muntor holds Pratt, Dr Trice and TR at gun point with a TV crew and audience of a conference and asks Pratt to sacrifice his life so that he will let the others live. Trice who has been fruitful in understanding Muntor than others, speaks him into leaving a mark behind his life by letting Pratt live so that he could ratify his donation of 1.5 Billion Dollars to Cancer research. TR plays hero and lets Muntor take hit of his own cyanide while manhandling him.
I loved the way my affinity and definition of hero kept oscillating between Muntor and TR. and I was not sure if and how Muntor be arrested. Many may not agree with killing of people just to create awareness against smoking. You see sin of smoking is lesser than sin of killing. But again you can not not see the ills of smoking to the smoker and others. Yes, you are in for a racy thriller spanning in a short period of time and if you like deducing part of the thriller you are in for a ride - I was sitting arguing with a friend, whom I was meeting after a long time when I could have done twenty other things, on how the killer would be arrested - and I dont regret it'. Such was the suspense element.
The book comes with the currently over used and hyped tag of psychological thriller - oh great, another one. I picked up the book mainly because the blurb intrigued me saying 'you will root for the killer to win' or something like that - but I didn't care for him at all, maybe because he was 56 years old man with stage IV cancer. And Muntor is not the guy everyone would take to. In fact I had to try hard to get through his part of story and his constant berating of the "the common people". I actually had problem connecting with any of the characters, even with the good writing. I wish I could have known about Pratt's story and even Trichina's and interestingly I liked his hitman Valzmann better than anyone else.
Bottomline - a fast racy thriller with good writing and no loose end. If you like Fredrick Forsythe and Robert Ludlum you will love this.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publicist free of cost in return for an honest review.
P.S Though I don't support propagate smoking but I can not support anyone else imposing moral and healthy habits on me with or without threats to my life - if I die it would be on my choosing.