three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
By: 
Josh Bazell
user_rating: 
0

737188.pngJosh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper ( 4 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2009) introduced Pietro Brnwa (aka Dr. Peter Brown), a Mob hit man gone legit—sort of. Brnwa returns in a madcap adventure that takes him to the Minnesota backwoods to search for the elusive "Aquabigfoot."

The Story: At the bidding of a Reclusive Billionaire ("Rec Bill," for short) and hoping to earn enough money to hit out an old enemy before he gets whacked himself, Caribbean cruise ship doctor and witness-protection member Pietro Brnwa (now calling himself Lionel Azimuth) joins a group of wealthy adventure tourists and the beautiful, unhinged paleontologist Violet Hurst in White Lake, Minnesota, to search for—wait for—a prehistoric lake monster reputed to be killing people there. With a cast of over-the-top characters—meth dealers, Brnwa’s old Mafia enemies, a pop star, an Asian tech tycoon, and a show-stopping cameo from a politician—who can be surprised when man proves to be the most dangerous animal?
Reagan Arthur. 400 pages. $25.99. ISBN: 9780316032193

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Josh Bazell is so cute when he’s angry. … Once Bazell pounces on a political topic, his wrath spills over into furious footnotes, not to mention 45 pages of source notes and an appendix that read like the work of a crackpot genius." Marilyn Stasio

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The novel is packed with witty footnotes, and when Brnwa isn’t lusting after the paleontologist, he’s a profanely trenchant social observer. … Bazell’s fans should have at least one more installment of inventive mayhem in store." Yvonne Zipp

AV Club 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Wild Thing’s plot occasionally suffers from a Mad Libs-style plugging-in of absurdities. … But by adopting Lionel’s cagey perspective from the outset—he believes in the monster and the possibility that one of his fellow passengers will try to kill him—the novel steers away from the sensationalist violence of its opening  (which features a cinematic foursome of teenagers and the alleged original White Lake ‘attack’) and seeks refuge in its own world-weariness." Ellen Wernecke

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 of 5 Stars
"Sadly, almost all of the characters in Wild Thing … just aren’t as fascinating as the motley Mob crew in Beat the Reaper. There is one exception: a real-life character who will serve as a referee on this camping trip to authenticate an urban legend." Maria Sciullo

USA Today HH
"It’s the kind of material that Carl Hiaasen has spun into gold, and Beat the Reaper was a mordant, vibrant caper. … The difficulty is that Bazell’s brand of unceasing cleverness can become suffocating without a story to spirit it along, and Wild Thing’s murder mystery is plodding, its monster indifferent." Charles Finch

Critical Summary

Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper was, like Charlie Huston’s Hank Thompson and Joe Pitt series or most of Joe R. Lansdale’s novels (critics mention Carl Hiaasen as well), the kind of outré fiction that made readers wonder if he really might have a screw loose (at one point, Bazell relates a rather clever use for the human fibula). In Wild Thing, Bazell ups the ante on hijinks and mayhem and aspires to match—but doesn’t quite—the energy and scathing humor of his debut effort. But this is a minor quibble that likely won’t slow readers who take their crime fiction with a pinch of the absurd, and Bazell can "turn a pulp-fictionish phrase with the best of them" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Extensive footnotes only add to the author’s offbeat and encyclopedic take on things.

First in the Series

738932.pngBeat the Reaper (2009): 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.