Book Review: The Death Freak by Clifford Irving & Herbert Burkholz (1976)

the-death-freak-by-clifford-irving-and-herbert-burkholzI seem to be inadvertently drawn to action books from the 1970s with a fair amount of kink these days.First there were Trevanian’s The Eiger Sanction and The Loo Sanction in physical form, and now The Death Freak by Clifford Irving and Herbert Burkholz. While those were about an art historian-turned-secret agent, this one’s about U.S. and Russian murder masters who pull a Strangers On A Train and start taking out each others’ targets.

Both Eddie Mancuso and Vasily Borgneff work for their respective governments as architects of death, not actual assassins, but the people who figure out how to kill the targets when a simple sniper rifle won’t work. They both want out, but know that the very small group of agents they work for will never have it. Luckily, since the number of people who officially know about them is relatively small, it’s a number that can be easily terminated. Of course, none of it’s actually easy as both sides use computers to figure out the probability of each man’s next move.

So, once they make contact with one another thanks to the help of a woman who’s sleeping with them both, the two men come to an agreement and get to work figuring out how to take out their targets. The first few go quite well, but eventually the agents catch on and bring in a contingent of soldiers to put their scheme to an end.

As an action and intrigue story, Death Freak is on point. The authors bounce back and forth between each target making sure you never quite lose interest in their dirty deeds. Speaking of which, boy do some of these assassinations get kinky. The book actually starts off with a woman and her husband — one of Eddie’s superiors — getting violent before making love so there’s precedence right off the bat, but I was not expecting the graphic BDSM scenes. I don’t consider myself overly squeamish, but I definitely grimaced through those chapters.

Much like with Eiger and Loo, I feel like Death Freak would make a fantastic action thriller on the big screen. You’d only have to take out a few scenes and update a few others (actually, that whole Soviet Russia thing might be tricky, let’s do it as a period piece!). Still, there’s plenty of solid material here to bring to the big screen. Maybe if I keep reading these largely forgotten thrillers, I’ll hit on one that I can adapt into the next big blockbuster!

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