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Beat the Reaperby Josh Bazell
"Beat the Reaper is a hypochondriac's nightmare but a reader's dream. Josh Bazell concocted this comic thriller while working as a medical resident at the University of California, San Francisco, and if anything he describes here is true, we should all become Christian Scientists. After I gulped down the doctor's story, my pulse was racing so fast I didn't know whether to recommend his outrageous first novel or sue for malpractice." Ron Charles, The Washington Post Book World (read the entire Washington Post Book World review)
Synopses & Reviews
Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital, with a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to land a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.
Pietro Bearclaw Brnwna is a hitman for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Relocation Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room.
Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might — just might — be the same person ...
Now, with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours-and somehow beat the reaper.
Spattered in adrenaline-fueled action and bone-saw-sharp dialogue, Beat the Reaper is a debut thriller so utterly original you won't be able to guess what happens next, and so shockingly entertaining you won't be able to put it down.
"Making a hit man turned medical intern a sympathetic figure would be a tall order for most authors, but first-time novelist Bazell makes it look easy in this breezy and darkly comic suspense novel. The Locanos, a mob family, take in 14-year-old Pietro Brwna (pronounced 'Browna') after a couple of thugs gun down the grandparents who raised him in their New Jersey home. Bent on revenge, Pietro pursues the killers and executes them a year later. Impressed by Pietro's performance, David Locano recruits Pietro as a hit man. After more traumas, Pietro tries to make a break from his past by entering the witness protection program. Now known as Peter Brown, he eventually lands a position as a doctor at a decrepit Manhattan hospital, where by chance a former Mafia associate turns up as a patient and threatens to rat him out. The hero's wry narrative voice, coupled with Bazell's artful use of flashbacks to sustain tension and fill in Pietro's past, are a winning combination." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Beat the Reaper" is a hypochondriac's nightmare but a reader's dream. Josh Bazell concocted this comic thriller while working as a medical resident at the University of California, San Francisco, and if anything he describes here is true, we should all become Christian Scientists. After I gulped down the doctor's story, my pulse was racing so fast I didn't know whether to recommend his outrageous... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) first novel or sue for malpractice. Bazell's narrator is known to his patients and colleagues at New York's run-down Manhattan Catholic hospital as Dr. Peter Brown, but his old mafia brothers knew him as Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwa. He hasn't seen any of those thugs for years, since he fled into the Federal Witness Protection Program and was reborn as a cynical emergency room physician who just happens to look "like an Easter Island sculpture of a longshoreman." "Beat the Reaper" opens with a mugging, followed by sex in a hospital elevator with a cute drug rep, and then it races along for eight manic hours in what looks like the last day of Peter's career — and perhaps his life. On early morning rounds, he has to tell a wealthy businessman named Nicholas LoBrutto that he probably has cancer, but when Peter steps into the room, LoBrutto instantly recognizes him as Bearclaw, the mafia assassin who turned state's evidence and vanished. LoBrutto offers him a deal: So long as he stays alive, he won't blow the doctor's cover, but if he dies, the mafia will pounce on their AWOL killer. As if that deadline weren't nerve-wracking enough, Peter accidentally gets stuck by a syringe full of fluid from a patient with a mysterious fever. It's that kind of book: constantly working its butt off to keep our attention, from fights to sex to medical gore, all told at a breakneck pace in the comic voice of a killer-turned-healer. Early on, the novel splits into two story lines. While Peter tries to keep his medical staff from losing LoBrutto to neglect or incompetence, he tells us how he fell in with the mafia during high school to find out who murdered his grandparents. He became a kind of Robin Hood executioner who specialized in the lucrative work of rubbing out the most loathsome criminals, the "truly evil." There's enough male fantasy packed into these pages to temporarily relieve the worst case of midlife crisis. The flashback scenes are full of hand-to-hand combat and bull's-eye shooting on the fly, along with lots of ironic macho talk of guns and stakeouts. And there are some Nazis, too, of course. What's more, Bazell has the advantage of bringing a physician's knowledge to the mechanics of mayhem: While taking down a guy with a knife, Peter stops momentarily to explain the trajectory of his left hand: "If it hits, it will crush the fragile rings of cartilage that keep his trachea open against the vacuum of breathing in. Next time he tries, his windpipe will clench shut like an anus, leaving him at ReaperTime minus maybe six minutes. Even if I ruin my Propulsatil pen trying to trache him." Bazell's gangster-turned-doctor makes Daniel Craig's James Bond look wussy in comparison. And the female characters in "Beat the Reaper" — particularly Peter's sultry European girlfriend — are about as complex as those traipsing through "Octopussy." Toward the end of the book, there's a love scene so ludicrous that Ian Fleming must be turning gangrene with envy: Flying bullets! Vicious sharks! Oral sex! (Teenage boys and jurors for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, turn directly to p. 268.) The mafia killings are brutal, but Peter's portrait of the hospital culture is even more alarming (and hilarious). Turn your head and cough — nervously — but you can't help wondering how much of this Bazell learned on the job. (Ironic footnotes fill in additional morbid details.) Doctors' paranoia about possible legal action rules all their medical decisions, especially how quickly to move barely stabilized patients out of the hospital to meet weekly quotas. When a surgeon tells a patient, "You have a chance," he really means, "I need a slightly longer Chriscraft." A desperate shortage of nurses leads the hospital to hire "mostly bitter and demented" women who seem to have emerged from "the white supremacist cult Nietzsche's sister founded in Paraguay." And all these so-called professionals are always so exhausted and pumped up on narcotics that they work in a mental state no different from extreme inebriation. Not surprisingly, Peter notes, physician-caused and hospital-caused illnesses "are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States." Of course, this is the doctor hero we've adored for years: the cynical iconoclast with a heart of gold who breaks all the rules but saves the patients no one else can. Bazell has sutured together Alan Alda's Capt. Hawkeye and James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, and so long as he keeps everything operating fast enough, it's too much fun and too much gore to take your eyes off the page. Beware the risk of dependency: This is the first of a planned series, and movie versions aren't far behind. Ron Charles is a senior editor of The Washington Post Book World. He can be reached at charlesr(at symbol)washpost.com. Reviewed by Ron Charles, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"A wildly funny mashup between genres that makes ER and St. Elsewhere look tame." Kirkus Reviews
"Who would have thought that extreme violence liberally sprinkled with obscenities could be both funny and tender?...A remarkably accomplished debut." Booklist
"A propulsive, savvy read featuring characters both well shaded and shady....You can prescribe this to fans of Carl Hiaasen and quirky abrasive fiction..." Library Journal (Starred Review)
"Bazell...more than earned my indulgence as a reader. If there's a better recommendation for a story than that, I don't know what it is." Matt Ruff, New York Times
"Fast, fun, furious, fierce...or better yet, stop reading the accolades for Beat the Reaper, open up to page one, and start reading. See you at the cash register." Harlan Coben
"Beat the Reaper is a blast. Josh Bazell blew me away with this story that is as relentless as a bullet." Michael Connelly
Making a hit-man-turned-medical-intern a sympathetic figure would be a tall order for most authors, but first-time novelist Bazell does just that in this breezy and darkly comic suspense novel.
Meet Peter Brown, a young Manhattan emergency room doctor with an unusual past that is just about to catch up with him. His morning begins with the quick disarming of a would-be mugger, followed by a steamy elevator encounter with a sexy young pharmaceutical rep, topped off by a visit with a new patient — and from there Peter's day is going to get a whole lot worse and a whole lot weirder.
Because that patient knows Peter from his other life, when he had a different name and a very different job. The only reason he's a doctor now is thanks to the Witness Protection Program — and even they can't protect him from the long reach of the New Jersey mob. Now he's got to do whatever it takes to keep his patient alive so he can buy some time...and beat the reaper.
About the Author
Josh Bazell has a BA in writing from Brown University and an MD from Columbia University. He is currently a medical resident at the University of California, San Francisco, and is working on his second novel.
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