Posted by: Gregg | January 27, 2010

Beat the Reaper – Josh Bazell

Sometimes a book comes along that’s exactly the right type of book you need at the exactly the right time. Maybe under different circumstances it might be too long, too violent, or too whatever, but in that specific moment? It can be perfection itself.

I was having a monumentally awful week last week. I was bitter, sour, rotten, and miserable. The reasons why will have to wait for a blog post at some point in the future, but yeah – last week sucked. Then I came across Josh Bazell’s book, Beat the Reaper. And my week got a little bit better, because it was exactly the sort of book I needed. What I needed went something along the lines of this: nothing too deep or literary – a genre book for sure. A noir with some thriller elements, maybe, with some dark humor thrown in to keep things from getting too serious. I’d want a cynical protagonist, but I’d also need to like him, so a smart one with a heart of gold but who’s emotionally damaged so we’d get some healing along the way. There’d be some guns, a doomed love story, a shot at redemption, drugs, and hitmen. Because just the presence of hitmen will make any book better. Jane Eyre would have been better with hitmen.

Bazell’s debut novwel is about a young mafia hitman (see? we’re good already) who enters the Witness Protection Program and is now a intern at a dingy Manhattan hospital, on the run from his previous life. But people who know the former Pietro “Bearclaw” Brwna eventually catch up with the now Dr. Peter Brown, and he’s quickly required to save a mafia member from terminal cancer or face death himself. Bazell is wickedly funny, interspersing the plot with fascinating medical tidbits and sly, cynical takes of hospital politics from an insider’s point of view. Part of the reason it feels so realistic is that Bazell is a doctor himself, which makes the far-fetched plot ever so slightly more reasonable. This is also a book that practically screams for a sequel, and I’m sure more will be forthcoming.

If you’ve ever read Charlie Huston, you’ll immediately recognize a kindred spirit. (What, you haven’t read any Huston? Get on over to you local library and pick up The Shotgun Rule or his Joe Pitt vampire series.)


  1. Thanks, Gregg. I read this in one long sitting. An excellent page-turner and so off-the-wall in its premise and execution that you just can’t help being swept along by the sheer audacity of this first-time author. A first person hardboiled narration keeps the story barreling along at 100 mph. Definitely looking forward to more from Bazell. This one’s a winner.

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