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Literature / Smoke

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Smoke is a Donald Westlake novel following the misadventures of Freddie Noon. Freddie is a small-time burglar who is caught looting the offices of a pair of cancer scientists, who catch him in the act and force him to serve as the test subject for one of their experiments in exchange for not being arrested. However, immediately after swallowing the concoction, Freddie flees while also ingesting another potion in the office which he mistakes for an antidote. Instead, the combination turns him invisible. As Freddie and his girlfriend both take advantage of and struggle with his new state, the tobacco company that the two scientists work for tries to kidnap him, eager to use him as an industrial spy, while also unsuccessfully trying to duplicate the experiment on other volunteers.


  • Alliterative Name: Barney Bueler.
  • Amoral Attorney: Morton Leethe acts as a liaison between the doctors and Bueler and the tobacco executives and is not only on board with their plans but also suggests several of them (before beginning to feel in over his head, anyway).
  • Bait-and-Switch Comment: Jack Fullerton IV declares that he won't be part of any human experimentation for a cancer drug, then orders his lawyer to set up a dummy corporation to handle it.
  • Bait the Dog: Merrill Fullerton is introduced as a healthy man with a bit of a disdain for cigarettes and their effects, and a keen grasp of the situation, then starts intensely talking about using Freddy to hijack the human genome project and start a public relations campaign urging women to abort any babies who might get lung cancer in the future.
  • Blessed with Suck: At first, Freddie is happy to be an invisible, uncatchable burglar. Then he's constantly getting bumped into on the streets and such, can't go out and interact with most people, and his girlfriend is grossed out by how he's invisible during sex.
  • Camp Gay: The two doctors and most of their circle of friends.
  • The Chew Toy: George Clapp in the backstory.
    [George] didn't so much have a medical history as a medical anthology. He had been shot, he had been stabbed, many of his bones had been broken in accidents and fights. He had been an alcoholic and a drug addict. [...] George had at one time or another suffered just about every nonfatal disease known to man.
  • Cannot Tell a Lie: Geoff feels this way about himself, but Freddy punches holes in this fairly quickly by asking if he ever lied to his parents or girlfriends in the past.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jack Fullerton IV and the other tobacco executives want to use an invisible spy for industrial espionage and spying on government committees.
  • Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass: Small-town policeman Geoff Wheeabyx isn't even a cop full-time, but he is the first person to deduce Freddy's invisibility and almost catch him.
  • Dirty Cop: Barney Bueler is an NYPD detective under heavy investigation for graft and hiring himself out for lots of dirty work.
  • Dirty Coward: Leethe is reluctant to expose himself to anything that couldn't be plausibly denied in court, and he flees in a fight against Freddy.
  • Dragon with an Agenda: Bueler is hired to capture Freddy for the tobacco company but is far more interested in forcing Freddy to be an invisible assassin for himself (killing Bueler's enemies and being rented out to organized crime) and gathers blackmail material against his employers.
  • Fat Bastard: Bueler is a ruthless killer with no morals who eats a lot of high cholesterol food, exercises little, and suspects that he's only a few years away from a heart attack.
  • Framing the Guilty Party: Freddie convinces Geoff to claim that Bueler and his men had held Geoff (and his deputy and the construction crew remodeling his basement) hostage not as part of an attempt to kidnap an invisible man, but as part of a plan to rob the local bank. They had no intention of doing anything of the sort, but this story will be more believable for a prosecutor seeking to convict them and keep Freddy and Peg out of it.
  • I Have Your Wife: Bueler plans to use Peg as a hostage against Freddy and does briefly get the chance.
  • I Lied: Freddie does this to Barney (who had kidnapped and threatened to torture Peg) in the climax when convincing him to put down his gun so that they can both go their separate ways.
  • Incurable Cough of Death: Jack Fullerton IV has late-stage lung cancer and eventually dies of it.
  • Invisible Streaker: Freddy can't wear clothes in order to avoid being seen when he goes out and has to deal with all of the troubles of invisibility including exposure to the elements, having to fast to avoid having half-digested food showing, and being noticed at one point by a blind man.
  • Let Off by the Detective: Geoff agrees to cover for Freddie after he defeats Bueler and decides to leave the country.
  • Lovable Rogue: Freddie is a petty criminal, but he's also a loving boyfriend and a somewhat nice guy who wants nothing to do with the crazy schemes of the tobacco company.
  • Minion with an F in Evil: The doctors are affable, somewhat comic characters who are utterly unhappy being dragged into the tobacco company's scheming and just want to get back to their melanoma research.
  • Mook Horror Show: While none of them die, this trope is in effect when the invisible Freddy goes against Bueler and his men — at one point, they see an axe hovering in the air.
  • Mundane Utility: Jack Fullerton IV is less concerned with using the invisible man his scientists have accidentally created for corporate espionage than to spy on his doctors and see if they're laughing at him.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Freddie gives Bueler one at the end, with Geoff describing it as several minutes of it looking as though Bueler is throwing himself against pieces of furniture then dragging himself back to his feet.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Freddie is accidentally turned invisible by taking two skin cancer formulas that weren't meant to be taken together. After unsuccessfully trying to catch Freddie, the scientists and their boss try to recreate the experiment and find two more volunteers to take the chemical combination. One of them turns luminescent, and the other has all of his scar tissue fade away.
    Dr. Heimhocker: Without Freddie Noon, without knowing when he took the second formula, what else he ate or drank that night, what he did the rest of the night, there's no possible way to duplicate the experiment, and therefore no possible way to duplicate the results.
  • Reformed Criminal: One of the company drivers and test subjects is named George Clapp — he comes across as a harmless, burned-out guy, but he admits that there are warrants out for him in death penalty states that make him want to turn invisible for peace of mind.
  • Right Behind Me: Justified, given his invisibility, but the doctors get a rude shock while talking about how what happened to Freddie is irreversible while at a friend's house... and then Freddie reveals his presence by angrily yelling "It's permanent?"
  • Run for the Border: Freddie and Peg decide to leave the country at the end.
  • So Beautiful, It's a Curse: One of the tobacco company's test subjects to try and reproduce the invisibility formula is named Michael Pendergast — her looks keep her from being taken seriously as a scientist, and she hopes that being invisible could change this. To her consternation, the experiment fails and just makes her more beautiful.
  • Sugary Malice: After Freddie destroys the doctors' vacation home during an attempt to trap them, their friends make a show of acting gracious and amused by the whole affair even as their eyes make it clear that the doctors are never being invited back again.
  • Superior Successor: Corrupt Corporate Executive Merrill Fullerton is a villainous version, being shrewder than his late uncle.
  • Unwitting Test Subject: Freddy is caught by the doctors whose offices he is robbing and coerced into testing their formula — the rest is history.
  • Visionary Villain: Merrill Fullerton wants to save Big Tobacco by using the human genome project to eliminate genes likely to develop lung cancer and wants to use Freddy to break into the human genome project.