January 6, 2009 | Comments ()

By Dustin Rowles | Books | January 6, 2009 |


One of the niceties of doing the Cannonball Read was that a very nice woman from a book publishing company allowed us to have advanced readers of some of their fine books. So I was able to complete this one right before it’s due to arrive in bookstores today. (You can purchase it here).

This is the book that movie Pathology really wishes it was. But then again, this novel itself wishes it was a bunch of things that it really isn’t. It’s the story of Peter Brown, a Manhattan emergency room doctor who used to be a hitman for the mob. He used the Witness Protection program to go into medicine, sort of as a penance for all the lives he took. It takes place all during the course of one rough day, when Peter gets recognized by a former mob guy and has to figure out how to get out alive. The chapters alternate between the hospital in present day and Peter recollecting how he became a hitman and the events that led to him selling out the family that took him under their wing.

It’s a fast paced and deviously dark comic novel, really cynical and sinister. Peter Brown’s a little too weirdly Bondlike for me — able to escape any situation, no matter how ludicrous, and able to seduce any woman — and yet he’s described more like a Vikings Linebacker. The events in the novel stretch the boundaries of the imagination, but I can imagine a development executive at a studio getting all kinds of sticky in the shorts with the setups. There’s a shootout over an aquarium sharktank for God’s sake. (It has Jason Statham written all over it. — DR)

The mob stuff is the weakest part of the novel, which is sad, because it absolutely had the potential to be the most incredible portion. Instead of the typical “Take My Sweatsuited Son Under Your Wing” coming of don story, it involves a mafia lawyer who’s more of a shark than any character. They don’t do enough with him, instead focusing on his ne’er-do-well idiot of a son Skinflick. Skinflick got his mob name because a videotape of him losing his virginity to a prostitute makes the rounds. (Consquently, Brown’s nickname is Bearclaw. Which again was a particularly brilliant turn of events that kind of fizzled out.) The mob story basically becomes a reverse Punisher: War Machine. The good guy goes on the run after something happens with the woman he loves, and the bad guy vows revenge.

The best parts of the novel are the hospital events. Because Brown is NOT a good guy. He’s a completely narcissistic douchebag. He’s the ultimate arrogant asshole, and it’s what makes his character so fun to read. Having recently spent a bit of time in the emergency room/hospital waves, reading about this seemed eerily familiar. It’s pretty brutally honest, and what makes it all the scarier is that Bazell himself is a medical student. It’s sort of a nasty version of “ER,” with him not giving a good goddamn if anyone is healthy, just bursting through his rounds while he constantly pops pills.

It’s Bazell’s first novel, and he shows promise. I think if he focuses more on the medical portion of his writing — there’s plenty of room for a Palahniuk-flavored Crichton in the world of writing these days — he’s going to put forward a pretty dynamic career. All in all, Beat the Reaper is a decent novel if you’re willing to kind of absorb the superhuman heroics in stride, and just enjoy the bitchiness of the narration.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here.

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100 Books in One Year #34: Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Cannonball Read / Brian Prisco

Books | January 6, 2009 | Comments ()



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