four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
39-Mar-Apr-2009
By: 
Josh Bazell
user_rating: 
0

A-Beat the ReaperJosh Bazell knows hospital lore well: with an MD from Columbia, he’s currently a resident at the University of California, San Francisco. He wrote this debut novel while completing his internship.

The Story: Dr. Peter Brown, an intern at New York’s Manhattan Catholic hospital, has a double identity. While performing hospital rounds one evening, Brown encounters a dying mobster who recognizes him from his former life as Pietro Brnwa, a contract hit man for a mob family. The mobster threatens to have Brown killed unless he can cure his cancer. As Brown tries to save both his and the mobster’s lives, he recounts his personal history—from his grandparents’ murders to his initiation into the mob, his Robin Hood-esque killings, and the change of heart that led him into a witness protection program and medical school. This madcap adventure has it all: sex, medical gore, brutality, and, of course, more death.
Little, Brown. 320 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 0316032220

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"The plan Brown concocts to save himself is the novel’s most original flourish. It is also completely outrageous, so much so that I had to stop and think about whether I could really suspend my disbelief. In the end I decided that, as with the footnotes, Bazell had more than earned my indulgence as a reader." Matt Ruff

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"It’s not all craziness and action, which is what it appears to be at the start, because Bazell touches on the human core of his protagonist’s heart. He also writes about real issues that confront hospitals which must also deal with being business entities as well." Barbara Tom

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"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. … 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." Ron Charles

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Bazell lays on the Sam Spade shtick a bit thick in places, and his plot takes some really preposterous twists (mobsters don’t really dunk people into shark tanks in Coney Island, do they?). But he also has a mischievous sense of humor, especially when it comes to medicine." Benjamin Svetkey

Critical Summary

Beat the Reaper, a criminal and medical thriller, received praise across the board. Written in a tough pulp-fiction style, this debut, with "enough male fantasy packed into these pages to temporarily relieve the worst case of mid-life crisis," noted the Washington Post, won’t fail to entertain. But despite its quirkiness and brutality, it contains surprisingly thoughtful scenes. Beat the Reaper also addresses real—and serious—issues that both doctors and hospitals face. A few critics commented on the ludicrous love scenes and disagreed over whether the footnotes added value, but all commented on the ending (imagine a locked medical freezer—we won’t say more). But since this is the first novel in a planned series, we’re pretty sure the adored protagonist survives.