Mystery Novelist Herbert Burkholz, 73

Herbert Burkholz, left, collaborated with boyhood friend and literary hoaxer Clifford Irving on the spy thrillers
Herbert Burkholz, left, collaborated with boyhood friend and literary hoaxer Clifford Irving on the spy thrillers "The Death Freak" and "The Sleeping Spy." The duo also wrote "Spy: The Story of Modern Espionage." (By Larry Morris -- The Washington Post)
By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 8, 2006

Herbert Burkholz, 73, a mystery novelist who briefly was a speechwriter at the Food and Drug Administration in the 1990s, died of lung cancer April 30 at Washington County Hospital in Hagerstown, Md.

Mr. Burkholz wrote 10 novels and two nonfiction books, including "The FDA Follies" (1994), an attack on the FDA in the Reagan era that grew out of a series of health-related articles he wrote for the New York Times Magazine. The Washington Post called it "history with a vengeance" and said Mr. Burkholz "makes little pretense of impartiality. . . . In the end, Burkholz's accounting is far less damning of the FDA than it is of the entire federal establishment's oversight of food and medicine."

After the book was published, Mr. Burkholz, a New York native who lived abroad most of his life, moved to Rockville to work as a speechwriter for David A. Kessler, the FDA commissioner. In 2002, he moved to Boonsboro, Md.

His mysteries were commercial successes, starting with "Sister Bear" (1969), "The Snow Gods" (1985) and a series that included "The Sensitives" (1987), "Strange Bedfellows" (1988) and "Brain Damage" (1992).

He also collaborated with a boyhood friend, literary hoaxer Clifford Irving, who in 1971 published a fake autobiography of Howard Hughes that got him international notoriety and a 17-month prison term. Mr. Burkholz expressed disappointment that reviewers were much more interested in revisiting Irving's exploits than in praising their spy thrillers, "The Death Freak" (1978) and "The Sleeping Spy" (1983). The pair also wrote "Spy: The Story of Modern Espionage" (1969).

Mr. Burkholz graduated from New York University and entered the insurance business. In the mid-1960s, he quit that profession and moved to the Spanish island of Ibiza, where he began writing fiction full time. He moved back to the United States in 1975 to take a writer-in-residence post at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

He also wrote nonfiction articles for Town & Country, the New Republic, Playboy and other magazines. Late in life, he became interested in the positive properties of thalidomide, the sedative that in the late 1950s and early 1960s was linked to birth defects in thousands of babies, and wrote an article for the FDA on the topic that was widely republished.

His marriage to Yvonne Burkholz ended in divorce. His second wife, Susan Burkholz, died last year.

Survivors include two sons from his first marriage, Matthew Burkholz of Chatham, N.Y., and Howard Burkholz of Sunrise, Fla.; and one granddaughter.

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