Death Wish by Brian Garfield – review

death wish brian garfieldThere is something so refreshingly simple about a man (or woman in the case of Sympathy for Lady Vengeance or Kill Bill) who is wronged and decides “Fuck it; I’m going to exact my own brand of swift, vigilante, street-justice on whoever I so choose.”

Paul Benjamin, an accountant living in New York, has a quaint little life. Good job, wife and daughter, good friends, good social standing, the whole nine yards. But his life gets dumped on its head when muggers target his family at random, follow them home from the grocery store and savagely beat them. His wife dies as a result. His daughter on the other hand survives but retreats inside herself, unable to cope with the trauma. His life is crumbling around him.

Paul’s bleeding heart starts to harden. He starts ridding the city, his city, of the filth that litters the streets.

Even though the violence inflicted by Paul only starts up in the last quarter of the book nothing ever paced awkwardly.

The movie, in retrospect/contrast to the novel, seems almost exclusively like a vehicle for Charles Bronson’s tough guy, 70s action star persona/moustache. The novel however is about Paul Benjamin’s decent into a deep, numbing depression and the violence almost seems incidental as opposed to it being a driving force. While the basic plot points are almost identical they seem like opposite sides of the same coin.

The Paul Benjamin of the novel is a vigilante I can get behind, an everyman whose life was shattered beyond repair and now he murders dudes to make himself feel better. He is a ton more relatable than Dexter and more subtle than the sledgehammer that is William “D-FENS” Forester (as portrayed by Michael Douglas in Falling Down).

While the ending wasn’t as sour as it could have been I’m still looking forward to reading Death Sentence (when the 200 Noirs are over with).

The Groovy Age of Horror covered Death Wish and Death Sentence earlier this year.


This is a part of the 200 noirs project. An attempt to read and review every book on Allan Guthrie’s Top 200 Noirs list. You can follow him on Twitter @200Noirs

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