Tommy Rhoads

Created by Frank Freudberg

TOMMY RHOADS isn't the protagonist in the controversial 1996 thriller Gasp! -- rather, he's the private eye who's charged with hunting down the real "hero" of the book, Martin Muntor, a Philadelphia reporter who's just been diagnosed with lung cancer.

Martin doesn't take the dignosis very well -- he's never smoked a day in his life! So he feels that's all the justification he needs to take as many people with him as he goes, setting his sights firmly on the tobacco industry and smokers. Calling himself "Virgil," and comparing himself to Jesus (he sees himself as "an unwilling Christ, made to pay for the sins of the world"), he starts lacing random cigarette packages with cyanide, and people start to die. A lot of people.

Suffice it to say Big Tobacco isn't pleased. The FBI is called in to hunt Virgil down. But Virgil proves to be a lot more difficult to catch than anyone had counted on.

Plus there are a few things W. Nicholas Pratt, the head honcho of one of the major tobacco companies, would rather the Feds not look at too closely.

Enter Tommy, an ex-cop with a taste for booze, who's looking for some big bucks to turn his life around. He agrees to join in the hunt -- and to keep an eye on the FBI for Pratt.

The book apparently caused a stir when it was first released in the nineties, even prompting a visit to the author from the authorities -- a visit the author seems quite eager to recount (see below). In 2013, the author revised the book extensively and re-released it under its original tile, Find Virgil.

The author is a novelist, journalist and ghostwriter who lives near Philadelphia and has written for Reuters, Associated Press, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Der Spiegel and others.


  • "... a narrative drive and a sense of plot that seize the reader and do not let him go."

--Thomas Berger on Gasp!


  • "Find Virgil began its strange odyssey early in 1996 when New York publisher Lyle Stuart read my manuscript, bought it, renamed it Gasp, and published it that fall. The novel spawned significant controversy and tons of hate mail. Oh, and there was an FBI investigation, possibly triggered by an unappreciative tobacco industry.

    One day in 1999, my doorbell rang. It was a Special Agent of the FBI and a detective with the Upper Merion Township police department. They flashed badges and asked to come in. "What's up?" I said. The agent answered: "We want the cyanide."

    After about 45 minutes of questioning at my dining room table, and my explanation of the difference between a novel and non-fiction, the agent admitted he was embarrassed. The detective apologized for bothering me.

    "We had no choice, we had to come," the agent said. "You and your book were reported directly to the Attorney General of the United States. We were told the book encourages people to poison cigarettes." No, I told him, it's the tobacco companies that put poison in cigarettes.

    After leaving some colorful FBI-logo stickers for my toddler - and taking two hardback copies of the book (they requested I sign them) - the FBI agent and detective left. "If you get any more of those threatening letters," the agent said, "let me know." We all shook hands."

--Frank Freudberg, from the Amazon page for Find Virgil


    Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.

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