Bazell, Josh. Beat the Reaper.

NY: Little, Brown, 2009.

Dr. Peter Brown is a pretty hulking guy for a hospital intern, as well as being a little older than average. That’s because he’s also Pietro Brnwa, a/k/a “Bearclaw,” retired Polish-Jewish hit man for the New York mob, and now in Witness Protection. Being a doctor is a lot tougher job than being a professional killer, he discovers, as well as a lot more bloody.

He’s just trying to keep his sanity while slogging through his rounds when he bumps into a patient being prepped for surgery whom he used to know in his earlier life. The guy recognizes him, too, and makes a call guaranteeing that if he dies, Dr. Brown will die. Unfortunately, his pre-surgery prognosis is pretty poor. Pietro may soon find himself on the run again. While he’s trying to deal with this problem — in addition to all the day’s routine medical crises — we find out how he got into the hit man business, how he came to be best friends with Skinflick, the son of a top mafia lawyer, and fell in love with the family, and how he gained and lost the most perfect girl in the world. The action proceeds at a gallop almost from the first page to the last, and this might make a pretty good film — but they would definitely have to tone down the violence by ninety percent. Especially that committed by the hospital staff.

Bazell, who was a medical resident himself while writing this book, has a very original, very cynical style, whether he’s detailing the horrors of hospital operations and personnel or describing Pietro’s visit to Auschwitz on behalf of his murdered grandparents. He has a nice turn of phrase, too. To wit: “Ah youth. It’s like heroin you’ve smoked instead of snorted. Gone so fast you can’t believe you still have to pay for it.” Or, when his hero is being hunted through the hospital by way too many killers: “I had a Rambo moment in which I consider yanking a Purell alcohol hand gel dispenser off the wall and using it as napalm, but then decided that burning down a hospital filled with patients kind of crosses the line.”

The last couple of chapters, in which Pietro manages to rescue himself from an intensely no-win situation, are incredible, maybe even literally. I kid you not. You can’t find stuff like this even in Batman comic books. This is not the sort of book you want to give to your mother who reads Agatha Christie and watches “ER” reruns, but for the rest of us deviates, it’s an occasionally unpleasant but surprisingly delightful way to spend an afternoon.

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Published in: on 20 November 2012 at 10:20 am  Leave a Comment  
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