Most people know the 1974 film Death Wish starring Charles Bronson, in which an ordinary man takes justice into his own hands after his wife is murdered and his daughter brutalized by a pack of roving thugs. The 1974 film was a stark portrayal of New York City in the bad old days, and a commercial success, striking a chord with an American public that was living through a period of increasing crime.
What most people don’t know is that the movie was based on a book—one that didn’t embrace violence, but rejected it. Brian Garfield’s 1972 novel is a thoughtful dissection of vigilantism, weighing the moral quandary of a man pushed to the edge and abandoned by the justice system.
Garfield was no fan of the film, charging that it advocated violence. The movie pushed him to write a sequel, Death Sentence, which he described as “penance” for the film’s success. Hollywood, though, experienced no such regret—the first film spawned four increasingly-violent sequels, all starring Bronson. In 2018, Death Wish once again appeared on the silver screen, this time with Bruce Willis portraying the vigilante father.
Going into Garfield's Death Wish, I expected something in line with the movie—an entertaining but ultimately superficial story that glorified violence. Instead I found something far more thoughtful. Garfield doesn’t hold your hand, and he doesn’t offer any easy answers. The books is tough, and sometimes disturbing, but it leaves you with a lot to think about. And on top of all that, Garfield is a hell of a writer.
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Rob Hart is the Publisher/COO at MysteriousPress.com and the class director at LitReactor. He’s the author of New Yorked, nominated for an Anthony Award for Best First Novel, and the upcoming South Village. His short stories have appeared in publications like Thuglit, Needle, and Helix Literary Magazine. You can find his website at robwhart.com.
Featured photo: Khachik Simonian / Unsplash