You are hereBeat the Reaper - Josh Bazell

Beat the Reaper - Josh Bazell

This mafia meets ER action-romp is a page turner extraodinaire. Accompany Dr. Peter Brown as he spends a day trying not to kill any patients in his drug fuelled, sleep deprevived rounds. You'll never want to end up in hospital again.

Brown’s creator, the novelist (and doctor) Josh Bazell, is an unusually talented writer. Most of the many digressions in “Beat the Reaper,” his first book, are genuinely entertaining, and the few that don’t work — the footnotes are the most common culprit — annoy primarily because the story is so engaging that you don’t want to be yanked out of it even for the time it takes to glance at the bottom of the page.

Bazell’s protagonist, né Pietro Brnwa, used to be a contract killer for the Mafia, as mentioned. But eight years ago, following a work-­related dispute that involved throwing his best friend out a window, he had a change of heart, entered a witness-protection program and enrolled in medical school. Now he heals people instead of murdering them — although, as the incident with the mugger shows, he hasn’t entirely given up his old ways.

While on his morning rounds, Brown is recognized by a mobster named Eddy Squillante who has been hospitalized with stomach cancer. Squillante’s prognosis is dire, but he’s determined to beat the odds. He offers Brown a simple proposition: keep me alive and I won’t tell your old bosses where you are; let me die (or kill me) and my associates start making phone calls.

Brown’s darkly comic struggle to save Squillante — not just from the cancer, but from the ministrations of a quack surgeon named Friendly — is intercut with highlights from his previous career. This blend of criminal and medical drama works well, and the back-and-forth between timelines keeps things moving.

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