Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (2009, Little Brown)

Dr Peter Brown is an intern at a busy public hospital working horrendous hours and under constant stress to manage all his cases. He’s somewhat older than the other interns, but has a talent and calling for medicine. Amongst his patients is Nicholas LoBrutto, who knows Brown from his former life – as Pietro "Bearclaw" Brwna, a hitman for the mob. Unable to reach his handler in Witness Protection, Brown tries to do a deal with LoBrutto – as long as he keeps him alive, LoBrutto will protect his identity. The problem being that LoBrutto is seriously ill and his first loyalty is to the mob, not Brown. Brown should be running for his life, but his Hippocratic oath keeps him tied to his patients, his hope resting on his deal and the skills from his former life. His past though seems intent on catching up with him.

Beat the Reaper is a comic crime caper set in a busy New York public hospital. The hook is Dr Peter Brown has used the witness protection programme to retrain as a doctor, but the mob is about to catch-up with him. His task is to keep himself and his patients alive as all hell descends on the hospital. Bazell tells the tale through two narrative lines: the first follows his activities in the hospital; the second sets out his back story from the time his grandparents were murdered, through becoming a hitman for the mob, to turning a witness for the state. The hook and the storytelling are compelling. Bazell has an engaging voice, with the pace kept high, plenty of hi-jinks action, lots of interesting medical and legal asides, and witty character exchanges. There is a strong streak of dark humour running throughout that often made me smile. The story arc worked well, though it did feel a couple of pages short in terms of the wrap-up. Overall, an entertaining and darkly amusing tale that zips along at a frenetic pace.

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