Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Beat the Reaper by Josh BazellThe only oath I took, as I recall, was to first do no harm. I’m thinking we’re past that point. – Dr. Peter Brown

As should be abundantly obvious from that quote, Dr. Peter Brown is not your typical doctor. In fact, he spent the majority of his adult life before we meet him in Beat The Reaper taking lives, not saving them.

He didn’t even begin life as Peter Brown but as Pietro Brwna, a young man whose life was set on the path to violence when his grandparents, who were raising him, were murdered when he was fourteen. Fortunately, he is taken in by the family of his best friend, “Skinflick” (don’t ask) Locanos. Unfortunately, it just so happens that the Locanos family is a major player in the mob.

It takes him a year, but Pietro tracks down his grandparents’ killers and exacts his revenge. Impressed with the young man’s natural talent for killing, the Locanos “family” recruits Pietro as a hit man. He enjoys and excels at the job until one day circumstances arise which force him to choose between going to jail and turning state’s evidence.

Not thinking that’s really too difficult of a choice he enters the Witness Protection Program, Pietro Brwna becomes Peter Brown, the Feds send him to medical school, and he ultimately finds himself working as a medical intern at a low-rent hospital in Manhattan.

Everything seems to be going fine until one day Brown goes to break the news to a patient that he has cancer, only to discover that he recognizes the man as a wiseguy from his days working with the mob. Worse, the patient also recognizes Brown. The mobster, who’s terrified of dying during his scheduled operation, offers Brown a deal he can’t refuse: make sure he gets through his surgery ok and he won’t rat Brown out to the family. Except… he rats him out anyway. And this is the point, boys and girls, where you’d better buckle-up because the ride gets decidedly bumpy.

The flashbacks to Brown’s time with the mob aside, the entire book takes place in an approximately eight-hour window of frenetic activity wherein Brown tries to stay one step ahead of his attending physician, his patients, his medical students, the hospital’s HAZMAT team (did I mention he gets stuck with a syringe filled with an unknown substance?), and his Witness Protection handlers. Oh, there’s also the little matter of the team of mafia hit men who descend upon the hospital to whack him.

To say that Beat The Reaper serves up a healthy dose of dark humor along with its non-stop action would be an understatement of Herculean proportions; you need a flashlight to read Beat The Reaper the humor is so dark. As is the violence, which is described in graphic detail. A scene that involves Brown MacGyvering a highly creative – and deeply disturbing – weapon stands out in particular. Ostensibly there to explain medical terminology, author Josh Bazell also makes creative use of footnotes to impart some amusing asides throughout. If you like books such as Scott Phillips’ The Ice Harvest, or films like the Coen brothers’ Fargo, you’ll love Beat The Reaper.

Beat the Reaper is available from Little, Brown and Company (ISBN: 0316032220).

Josh Bazell has a BA in English literature and writing from Brown University, an MD from Columbia, and is currently a resident at the University of California, San Francisco. Leonardo DiCaprio has signed on to co-produce and star in a movie of Beat The Reaper. For more information, including some fun interactive content, visit the Beat The Reaper website.

Beat the Reaper was one of my Top 10 Reads of 2010

– Beat the Reaper: Flatline Voice Over –

Beat the Reaper: Grim Reaper

Beat the Reaper: Gun Finale

Beat the Reaper: Scalpel Finale


  • […] Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell {11} […]

  • Everio

    July 30, 2010 - 4:19 AM

    Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well chuffed.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    June 28, 2010 - 1:40 PM

    Thanks for the kind words. And yes, that scene is most definitely unforgettable. If they do that scene ‘properly’ in the film a large portion of the audience is going to seriously freak out. And, obviously, the film will have to be rated R. Leonardo DiCaprio, however, is nowhere near what I pictured Peter Brown looking like.

  • le0pard13

    June 26, 2010 - 3:40 PM

    I read (er… listened to the audiobook) this last year. A dark and entertaining as hell debut novel by Bazell. When my friend Corey Wilde reviewed it, he managed to hook me by alluding to that scene (you know the one). Enjoyed your review, Elizabeth. Thanks for this.

  • Buck Chenier

    June 17, 2010 - 3:50 AM

    great blog post

  • Denny Hemsley

    June 12, 2010 - 9:47 PM

    It was an excellent read. Cheers.

  • Charles Wingfield

    June 3, 2010 - 9:14 AM

    Love the book cover and how cool are those book trailers? Nice marketing. I love books with dark humor. Can’t wait to read this one.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    June 3, 2010 - 9:00 AM

    Amazing isn’t it that after all the books that have been written and films that have been produced he was still able to come up with something so disgustingly creative?!

  • Pop Culture Nerd

    June 2, 2010 - 8:24 PM

    I LOVE this novel! And that weapon he uses during the climax is the craaaaziest I’ve ever read about. Been Googling for months to see when the sequel is coming.

  • Elizabeth A. White

    June 1, 2010 - 3:01 PM

    L.J., I completely agree that the tone of the narrator ‘made’ this book. It could have come across very differently if there wasn’t such wicked humor to go with the rather stark story.

  • Patricia Ramp

    June 1, 2010 - 2:39 PM

    Good article, thanks for your share!

  • L.J. Sellers

    June 1, 2010 - 10:37 AM

    I loved this novel, even though it has everything I usually don’t like: first person, graphic violence, and mob theme. It was the voice, character, and hospital setting that grabbed me.

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