Beat the Reaper: A Novel

Beat the Reaper: A Novel

by Josh Bazell

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Overview

Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital, with a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to land a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwna is a hitman for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Relocation Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room.

Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might-just might-be the same person ...

Now, with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours-and somehow beat the reaper.

Spattered in adrenaline-fueled action and bone-saw-sharp dialogue, BEAT THE REAPER is a debut thriller so utterly original you won't be able to guess what happens next, and so shockingly entertaining you won't be able to put it down.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780316032216
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication date: 09/14/2009
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 460,025
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Josh Bazell holds a BA in writing from Brown University and a MD from Columbia. He is currently a medical resident at the University of California, San Francisco, and is working on his second novel.

Read an Excerpt

So I'm on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a rat in the snow, and some fuckhead tries to mug me! Naturally there's a gun. He comes up behind me and sticks it into the base of my skull. It's cold, and it actually feels sort of good, in an acupressure kind of way. "Take it easy, Doc," he says.

Which explains that, at least. Even at five in the morning, I'm not the kind of guy you mug. I look like an Easter Island sculpture of a longshoreman. But the fuckhead can see the blue scrub pants under my overcoat, and the ventilated green plastic clogs, so he thinks I've got drugs and money on me. And maybe that I've taken some kind of oath not to kick his fuckhead ass for trying to mug me.

I barely have enough drugs and money to get me through the day. And the only oath I took, as I recall, was to first do no harm. I'm thinking we're past that point.

"Okay," I say, raising my hands.

The rat and the pigeon run away. Chickenshits.

I turn around, which rolls the gun off my skull and leaves my raised right hand above the fuckhead's arm. I wrap his elbow and jerk upwards, causing the ligaments to pop like champagne corks.

Let's take a moment to smell the rose known as the elbow.

The two bones of the forearm, the ulna and the radius, move independently of each other, and also rotate. You can see this by turning your hand from palm up, in which position the ulna and radius are parallel, to palm down, where they're crossed into an "X."1 They therefore require a complicated anchoring system at the elbow, with the ligaments wrapping the various bone ends in spoolable and unspoolable ribbons that look like the tape on the handle of a tennis racket. It's a shame to tear these ligaments apart.

But the fuckhead and I have a worse problem right now. Namely that while my right hand has been fucking up his elbow, my left, having somehow come into position by my right ear, is now hooking toward his throat in a knife-edge.

If it hits, it will crush the fragile rings of cartilage that keep his trachea open against the vacuum of breathing in. Next time he tries, his windpipe will clench shut like an anus, leaving him at ReaperTime minus maybe six minutes. Even if I ruin my Propulsatil pen trying to trache him.

So I beg and plead, and coax the trajectory of my hand upwards. Past the point where it's aiming for his chin, or even his mouth -- which would have been disgusting -- to where it's aiming for his nose.

Which caves in like wet clay. Wet clay with twigs in it. The fuckhead crashes to the pavement, unconscious.

I check to make sure I'm calm -- I am, I'm just annoyed -- before getting heavily to my knees down next to him. In this kind of work, as in every kind of work, probably, planning and composure are worth a lot more than speed.

Not that this particular situation requires much planning or composure. I roll the fuckhead onto his side so he won't choke to death, and bend the arm that isn't broken under his head to keep his face off the frozen sidewalk. Then I check to make sure he's still breathing. He is, in fact with a bubbly joie de vivre. Also the pulses at his wrists and ankles are reasonably strong.

So, as is usual in these situations, I imagine asking the Great One -- Prof. Marmoset -- whether I can leave now.

And, as is also usual in these situations, I imagine Prof. Marmoset saying No, and What would you do if he was your brother?

I sigh. I don't have a brother. But I know what he's getting at.

I put my knee into the guy's fucked-up elbow and pull the bones as far apart as the tendons feel likely to bear, then let them come slowly back together into their positions of least resistance. It makes the fuckhead groan in pain in his sleep, but whatever: they'd just do the same to him in the ER, only by then he'd be awake.

I frisk him for a cell phone. No such luck, of course, and I'm not about to use my own. If I did have a brother, would he want me getting hassled by the cops?

So instead I pick the fuckhead up and fold him over my shoulder. He's light and stinky, like a urine-logged towel.

And, before I stand, I pick up his handgun.

The gun is a real piece of shit. Two pieces of pressed sheet-metal -- no grips, even -- and a slightly off-center cylinder. It looks like something that began life as a starter pistol at a track meet. For a second it makes me feel better about there being 350 million handguns in the United States. Then I see the bright brass ends of the bullets and am reminded how little it takes to kill someone.

I should throw it out. Bend the barrel and drop it down a storm drain.

Instead, I slip it into the back pocket of my scrub pants.

Old habits die harder than that.

In the elevator up to Medicine there's a small blond drug rep in a black party dress, with a roller bag. She's got a flat chest, and the arch of her back boosts her ass, so she's shaped like a sexy, slender kidney bean. She's twenty-six after a bit too much sun exposure,2 and her nose is the kind that looks like a nose job but isn't. Freckles, I shit you not. Her teeth are the cleanest things in the hospital.

"Hi," she says like she's from Oklahoma. "Do I know you?"

"Not yet, no," I say. Thinking: Because you're new on this job, or you wouldn't have such shitty hours.

"Are you an orderly?" she asks.

"I'm an intern in Internal Medicine."

An intern is a first-year resident, one year out of medical school, so typically about six years younger than I am. I don't know what an orderly is. It sounds like someone who works in an insane asylum, if there are still insane asylums.

"Wow," the drug rep says. "You're cute for a doctor."

If by "cute" she means brutal and stupid-looking, which in my experience most women do, she's right. My scrub shirt is so tight you can see the tattoos on my shoulders.

Snake staff on the left, Star of David on the right.3

"You're from Oklahoma?" I ask her.

"Well yes I am."

"You're twenty-two?"

"I wish. Twenty-four."

"You took a couple of years off."

"Yes, but oh my God that is a boring story."

"It's okay so far. What's your name?"

"Staaaaacey," she says, stepping closer with her arms behind her back.

I should say here that being chronically sleep-deprived is so demonstrably similar to being drunk that hospitals often feel like giant, ceaseless office Christmas parties. Except that at a Christmas party the schmuck standing next to you isn't about to fillet your pancreas with something called a "hot knife."

I should also maybe say that drug reps, of whom there is one for every seven physicians in the U.S., get paid to be flirtatious. Or else to actually fuck you -- I've never been quite clear on that.

"What company do you work for?" I ask.

"Martin-Whiting Aldomed," she says.

"Got any Moxfane?"

Moxfane is the drug they give to bomber pilots who need to take off from Michigan, bomb Iraq, then fly back to Michigan without stopping. You can swallow it or use it to run the engine.

"Well yes I do. But what are you gonna give me in return?"

"What do you want?" I say.

She's right up under me. "What do I want? If I start thinking about that, I'll start crying. Don't tell me you want to see that."

"Beats going to work."

She gives me the play slap and leans over to unzip her bag. If she's wearing underwear, it's not of any technology I'm familiar with. "Anyway," she says, "it's just things like a career. Or not having three roommates. Or not having parents who think I should have stayed in Oklahoma. I don't know that you can help me with that."

She stands up with a sample pack of Moxfane and a pair of Dermagels, the Martin-Whiting Aldomed eighteen-dollar rubber gloves. She says, "In the meantime, I might settle for showing you our new gloves."

"I've tried them," I say.

"Have you ever tried kissing someone through them?"

"No."

"Neither have I. And I've kind of been dying to."

She hip-checks the elevator "stop" button. "Oops," she says.

She bites the cuff of one of the gloves to tear it open, and I laugh. You know that feeling where you're not sure whether you're being hustled or in the presence of an actual human being?

I love that feeling.

"The ward is a fucking nightmare," Akfal, the other intern on my service, says when I finally show up to relieve him. What "Hello" is to civilians, "The ward is a fucking nightmare" is to interns.

Akfal is a J-Card from Egypt. J-Cards are graduates of foreign medical schools whose visas can be rescinded if they don't keep their residency directors happy. Another good word for them would be "slaves." He hands me a printout of current patients -- he's got one too, though his is marked up and heavily creased -- and talks me through it. Blah blah Room 809 South. Blah blah colostomy infection. Blah thirty-seven-year-old woman for regularly scheduled chemotherablah. Blah blah blah blah blah. It's impossible to follow, even if you wanted to.

Instead I'm leaning back against the nursing station desk, which is reminding me that I'm still carrying a handgun in the inside pocket of my scrub pants.4

I need to stash the gun somewhere, but the locker room is four floors away. Maybe I should hide it behind some textbooks in the nurses' lounge. Or under the bed in the call room. It doesn't really matter, as long as I can focus enough to remember where I put it later.

Eventually Akfal stops talking. "Got it?" he asks me.

"Yeah," I say. "Go home and get some sleep."

"Thanks," Akfal says.

Akfal will neither go home nor get some sleep. Akfal will go do insurance paperwork for our residency director, Dr. Nordenskirk, for at least the next four hours.

It's just that "Go home and get some sleep" is intern for "Goodbye."

Rounding on patients at five thirty in the morning usually turns up at least a handful of people who tell you they'd feel fine if only you assholes would stop waking them up every four hours to ask them how they're feeling. Other people will keep this observation to themselves, and bitch instead about how someone keeps stealing their mp3 player or medications or whatever. Either way, you give the patient the once-over, keeping a particularly sharp lookout for "iatrogenic" (physician caused) and "nosocomial" (hospital caused) illnesses, which together are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Then you flee.

The other thing that sometimes happens when you round early on patients is that none of them complain at all.

Which is never a good sign.

The fifth or sixth room I enter is that of Duke Mosby, easily the patient I currently hate least. He's a ninety-year-old black male in for diabetes complications that now include gangrene of both feet. He was one of ten black Americans who served in Special Forces in World War II, and in 1944 he escaped from Colditz. Two weeks ago he escaped from this very room at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. In his underpants. In January. Hence the gangrene. Diabetes fucks your circulation even if you wear, say, shoes. Thankfully, Akfal was on shift at the time.

"What's going on, Doc?" he says to me.

"Not much, sir," I tell him.

"Don't call me sir. I work for a living," he says. He always says this. It's some kind of army joke, about how he wasn't a commissioned officer or something. "Just give me some news, Doc."

He doesn't mean about his health, which rarely seems to interest him, so I make up some shit about the government. He'll never find out differently.

As I start bandaging his reeking feet, I say, "Also, I saw a rat fighting a pigeon on my way to work this morning."

"Yeah? Who won?"

"The rat," I tell him. "It wasn't even close."

"Guess it figures a rat could take a pigeon."

I say, "The weird thing was that the pigeon kept trying, though. It had its feathers all puffed out and it was covered with blood. Every time it attacked, the rat would just bite it once and throw it onto its back. Go mammals, I guess, but it was pretty disgusting." I put my stethoscope on his chest.

Mosby's voice booms in through the earpieces. "That rat must have done something pretty bad to that pigeon to make it keep on like that."

"Doubtless," I say. I push his abdomen around, trying to elicit pain. Mosby doesn't seem to notice. "Seen any of the nurses this morning?" I ask him.

"Sure. They been in and out all the time."

"Any of the ones in the little white skirts, with the hats?"

"Many times."

Uh huh. You see a woman dressed like that, it's not a nurse, it's a strip-o-gram. I feel the glands around Mosby's neck.

"I got a joke for you, Doc," Mosby says.

"Yeah? What's that?"

"Doctor says to a guy, 'I got two pieces of bad news for you. First one is, you got cancer.' Man says, 'Lordy! What's the second one?' Doctor says, 'You got Alzheimer's.' Man says, 'Well, at least I don't have cancer!' "

I laugh.

Like I always do when he tells me that joke.

In the bed by the door of Mosby's room -- the bed Mosby had until the ward clerk decided he'd be less likely to escape if he was five feet farther from the door -- there's a fat white guy I don't know with a short blond beard and a mullet. Forty-five years old. Lying on his side with the light on, awake. When I checked the computer earlier, his "Chief Complaint" -- the line that quotes the patient directly, thereby making him look like an idiot -- just said "Ass pain."

"You got ass pain?" I say to him.

"Yeah." He's gritting his teeth. "And now I got shoulder pain too."

"Let's start with the ass. When did that start?"

"I've already been through this. It's in the chart."

It probably is. In the paper chart, anyway. But since the paper chart is the one the patient can request, and that a judge can subpoena, there's not much incentive to make it legible. Assman's looks like a child's drawing of some waves.

As for his computer chart -- which is off the record, and would contain any information anyone actually felt like giving me -- the only thing written besides "CC: Ass pain" is "Nuts? Sciatica?" I don't even know if "nuts" means "testicles" or "crazy."

"I know," I say. "But sometimes it helps if you tell it again."

He doesn't buy it, but what's he going to do?

"My ass started to hurt," he starts up, all resentful. "More and more for about two weeks. Finally I came to the emergency room."

"You came to the emergency room because your ass hurt? It must really hurt."

"It is fucking killing me."

"Even now?" I look at the guy's painkiller drip. That much Dilaudid, he should be able to skin his own hand with a carrot peeler.

"Even now. And no, I'm not some kind of drug addict. And now it's in my fucking shoulder, too."

"Where?"

He points to a spot about midway along his right collarbone. Not what I'd call the shoulder, but whatever.

Nothing's visible. "Does this hurt?" I say, poking the spot lightly. The man screams.

"Who's there!?" Duke Mosby demands from the other bed.

I pull the curtain aside so Mosby can see me. "Just me, sir."

"Don't call me sir --" he says. I let the curtain fall back.

I look down at Assman's vitals sheet. Temp 98.6, Blood Pressure 120/80, Respiratory Rate 18, Pulse 60. All totally normal. And all the same as on Mosby's chart, and on the vitals sheets of every other patient I've seen on the ward this morning. I feel Assman's forehead like I'm his mother. It's blazing.

Fuck.

"I'm ordering you some CT scans," I tell him. "Seen any nurses around here lately?"

"Not since last night," he says.

"Fuck," I say out loud.

Sure enough, a woman five doors down is flat-out dead, with a look of screaming horror on her face and a vitals sheet that reads "Temp 98.6, Blood Pressure 120/80, Respiratory Rate 18, Pulse 60." Even though her blood's so settled at the bottom of her body that it looks like she's been lying in a two-inch pool of blue ink.

To calm myself down I go start a fight with the two charge nurses. One's an obese Jamaican woman busy writing some checks. The other's an Irish crone cruising the Internet. I know and like both of them -- the Jamaican one because she sometimes brings in food, and the Irish one because she has a full-on beard she keeps shaved into a goatee. If there's a better Fuck You to the world than that, I don't know what it is.

"Not our problem," the Irish one says, after I've run out of things to complain about. "And nothing to do about it. We had that pack of Latvian cuntheads on the overnight. Probably out selling the lady's cell phone by now."

"So fire them," I say.

It makes both nurses laugh. "There's a bit of a nursing shortage on," the Jamaican one says. "Case you haven't been noticing."

I have been noticing. Apparently we've used up every nurse in the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Southeast Asia, and now we're most of the way through Eastern Europe. When the white supremacist cult Nietzsche's sister's founded in Paraguay re-emerges from the jungle, at least its members will be able to find work.

"Well I'm not filling out the certificate," I say.

"Sterling. And fuck the Pakistani, eh?" the Irish one says. Her face is remarkably close to the computer screen.

"Akfal's Egyptian," I say. "And no, I'm not leaving it for him. I'm leaving it for your Latvian shitheels. Stat."

The Jamaican one shakes her head sadly. "Won't bring the lady back," she says. "You ask them to do the certificate, they're just going to call a code."5

"I don't give a fuck."

"Párnela?" the Jamaican one says.

"I neither," the Irish one says. "Dim bitch," she adds, sort of under her breath.

You can tell by the way the Jamaican one reacts to this that she knows the Irish one is talking about me, not her.

"Just tell them to do it," I say, leaving.

I feel better already.

But even after that I have to take a slight break. The Moxfane I chewed up half an hour ago, along with some Dexedrine I found in an envelope in my lab coat and ate in case the Moxfane took too long to kick in, is making it hard for me to concentrate. I'm peaking a little too sharply.

I love Dexedrine. It's shield-shaped, with a vertical line down the middle so it looks like some vulvae.6 But even on its own, Dexedrine can sometimes make things too slippy to focus on, or even look at. On top of a Moxfane it can make things start to blur.

So I go to the medicine residents' call room to chill out, and maybe take some benzodiazapines I've got hidden in the bed frame.

The second I open the door, though, I know there's someone in there in the darkness. The room stinks like bad breath and body odor.

"Akfal?" I say, though I know it can't be Akfal. Akfal's aroma I will take to my grave. This is worse. It's worse than Duke Mosby's feet.

"No, man," comes a weak voice from the corner with the bunk bed.

"Then who the fuck are you?" I snarl.

"Surgery ghost,"7 the voice says.

"Why are you in the Medicine call room?"

"I...I needed a place to sleep, man."

He means, "Where no one would look for me."

Great. Not only is the guy stenching up the call room, he's using the only available bunk, since the upper one is covered by a complete run of Oui magazine from 1978 to 1986, which I know from experience is too much of a pain in the ass to move.

I consider just letting him stay. The room smells unusable for the foreseeable future anyway. But I've got that Moxfane Edge, and there's always deterrence to think about.

"I'll give you five minutes to get the fuck out," I tell him. "After that I'm dumping a bottle of urine on your head."

I turn the lights on as I go.

I'm feeling slightly more focused now, but still not focused enough to talk to patients, so I go and check labs on the computer. Akfal has already copied most of them into the charts. But there's a pathology report on a patient of Dr. Nordenskirk's who actually has insurance, so Akfal hasn't touched it. Dr. Nordenskirk doesn't let anyone who's not white or Asian interact with patients with insurance.

So I scan the report on-screen. It's a bunch of bad news for a man named Nicholas LoBrutto. The Italian name alarm in my head goes off, but I'm pretty sure I've never heard of this guy. And anyway mobsters -- like most people with options -- don't come to Manhattan Catholic. It's why I'm allowed to work here.

The key phrase in the pathology report is "positive for signet cells." A signet cell is a cell that looks like a ring with a diamond (or a signet, if you're still sealing your letters with wax) on it, because its nucleus, which is supposed to be in the center, has been pushed to the wall by all the proteins the cell can't stop making because it's cancer. Specifically, either stomach cancer or cancer that was stomach cancer and has now metastasized, like to your brain, or your lungs.

All stomach cancers suck, but signet cell is the worst. Where most stomach cancers just drill a hole through your stomach wall, so you can have half your stomach cut out and conceivably live, just not be able to shit solid, signet cell cancer infiltrates the stomach along the surface, producing a condition known as "leather bottle stomach." The whole organ has to go. And even then, by the time you're diagnosed it's usually too late.

The CT scan of Nicholas LoBrutto's abdomen is inconclusive about whether his cancer has spread or not. (Although, helpfully, he now has a 1 in 1200 chance of contracting some other form of cancer just from the radiation of the scan. He should live so long.) Only surgery will say for sure.

And in the meantime, at six thirty in the morning, I get to go tell him all of this.

Mr. LoBrutto? There's a call for you on line one. He didn't say, but it sounded like the Reaper.

Even for me, it's early to be wanting a drink.

LoBrutto is bedded down in the Anadale Wing, the tiny deluxe ward of the hospital. The Anadale Wing tries to look like a hotel. Its reception area has wood-patterned linoleum and a schmuck in a tuxedo playing a piano.

If it really were a hotel, though, you'd get better healthcare.8 The Anadale Wing actually does have hot 1960s nurses. I don't mean they're hot now. I mean they were hot in the 1960s, when they first started working at Manhattan Catholic. Now they're mostly bitter and demented.

One of them shouts out to ask where the hell I'm going as I pass the charge desk, but I ignore her on my way to LoBrutto's "suite."

When I open the door I have to admit it's pretty nice for a hospital room. It's got an accordioning wall, now mostly retracted, that divides it into a "living room" -- where your family can come eat dinner with you at an octagonal table covered with vinyl that looks easy to clean vomit off of -- and a "bedroom" with the actual hospital bed. The whole thing has floor-to-ceiling windows, with a view, at the moment, of the Hudson River just starting to catch light from the east.

It's dazzling. They're the first windows I've looked out since I got to work. And they backlight LoBrutto in his bed, so he recognizes me before I recognize him.

"Holy shit!" he says, trying to crawl away from me up the bed, but held back by all his IV and monitor lines. "It's the Bearclaw! They sent you to kill me!"

__________

1. And you can compare this to your lower leg, where the same setup is vestigial. The two bones of the lower leg, the tibia and fibula, are locked in place. The outer one, the fibula, doesn't even support weight. In fact you can take most of it out -- to use as a graft or whatever -- and as long as you don't fuck up the ankle or the knee, it won't affect the patient's ability to walk.

2. Doctors always know how old you are. We use it to tell whether you're lying to us. There are various formulas for it -- compare the creases of the neck to the veins on the backs of the hands and so on -- but they're not really necessary. If you met thirty people a day and asked them how old they were, you'd get good at it too.

3. The tattoo on my left shoulder -- winged staff, two snakes -- turns out to actually be the symbol of Hermes, and therefore of commerce. The symbol of Asclepius, and therefore of medicine, is a nonwinged staff with one snake. Who knew?

4. Scrub suits are reversible, with pockets on both sides, in case you need to run anesthesia or whatever but are too tired to put your pants on correctly.

5. "Stat" is short, though not very, for statim. "Calling a code" is what you do when you want to pretend you don't know someone's already dead.

6. In fact, the medical word for pubic hair, "escutcheon," means "shield," although in free-range humans only women's pubic hair is shield-shaped. Men's is naturally diamond-shaped, pointing up toward the navel as well as down toward the groin. Which is why women who shave their pubic hair into a diamond shape subconsciously skeeze you out.

7. This is an actual job, though it's not interesting enough to go into.

8. Think more money can't buy you worse healthcare? Forget the endless studies showing that the U.S. spends twice as much per capita as any other country, with results outside the top thirty-six. Take a look at Michael Jackson.

Copyright © 2009 by Josh Bazell

What People are Saying About This

Fast, fun, furious, fierce... or better yet, stop reading the accolades for Beat the Reaper, open up to page one, and start reading. See you at the cash register. --Harlan Coben

Beat the Reaper is a blast. Josh Bazell blew me away with this story that is as relentless as a bullet. --Michael Connelly

I didn’t want to like it. I mean, a doctor writing a novel is kind of obnoxious. What, you don’t have enough to do already? But maybe that’s me. Anyway, I didn’t want to like Beat the Reaper, but I did; I loved it. It is completely original, an utter page-turner, bold, shocking, hilarious, complex and even educational. It’s that book you wish you had with you when you were trapped in an airport for a three-hour flight delay. My only complaint is that I’ve already read it. --Lisa Lutz, author of The Spellman Files

Beat the Reaper is terrific -- fresh, original, funny, and a dynamite read. Dr. Peter Brown -- aka Pietro Brnwa, aka 'the Bearclaw' -- is my new favorite character. --Robert Crais

Beat the Reaper is way cool and ice-cold. A ferocious read. --Don Winslow

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Beat the Reaper 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 229 reviews.
sinnvox More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to be by a friend who always gives a great recommendation, But this time he out-did himself! this book is so awesomely written i am going to read it again. I recently heard this is being adapted into a movie and i cant wait! this book has everything. it has gun fights, nazi history, mafia, sex, extremely sarcastic doctor humor, outrageous characters and originality(hard to come by)! i say pick this up and read over and over again! Kudos to Josh Bazell
BB23 More than 1 year ago
The footnotes in this book are great. Page turner that will have you finishing this book in short order. Great premise.
SheilaDeeth More than 1 year ago
I saw this book in the bookstore at the weekend with a blue cover, and again in yellow. My copy's red. Very odd. And it's a very odd book, besides being thoroughly entertaining, intriguing and absorbing. The story's set in a Manhattan hospital, where a doctor tries to "beat the reaper" in the medical sense, whilst also trying to escape his own personal reaping. His past-well, you'd have to read the story. The tale is told in first person present tense, which works perfectly. It feels like listening to a very strange, possibly deranged, but superbly intelligent person telling his life, and it draws you in completely. I learned the oddest of medical facts from the footnotes, including why bone grafts come from the leg. And the story took me from the world of Polish Jews to the Italian Mafia, to murder, mayhem and hospital. There are scenes that are definitely not for the squeamish, told with a deft hand that lets this slightly squeamish reader safely off the hook-a very deft hand. And the whole is a curiously satisfying madcap adventure with just enough seriousness to haunt you when it's done. Highly recommended. Outrageous fun.
TWTaz More than 1 year ago
I'd give this another 1/2 star if I could. I had seen some mixed reviews on this book, but decided to read it anyway and form my own opinion. I enjoyed this book a lot. Yes, it's violent and vulgar at times, but I expected that from the outset and didn't mind it a bit. I've read books containing much worse. If you are expecting the next great piece of literature, this book is not for you. If you want a quick read that's a wild ride with outlandish action and are willing to forgive the believability for awhile, you definitely need to read this book. Pretty much an action movie in print. I enjoyed the cast of characters, laughed out loud many times, and am looking forward to the next installment in Peter's saga. Oh...and I also hope I never have to spend another minute as a hospital patient after reading this book!
B.Reader03 More than 1 year ago
This is by far the most entertaining book I have read in the last year. I could not put it down. The pace and storyline are intense. Highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to escape for a few hours.
TomWev More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing book. Certainly one of the most entertaining I've read in several years, but also informative and moving.
schmadeke on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Peter Brown, the reluctant hero of Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, is a doctor with a past. He is currently an intern at Manhattan Catholic but from the opening scene, in which Brown expertly defends himself from an attack by a mugger, it's obvious that he is no stranger to violence.In fact, it turns out that Brown was at one time involved with the mob, did jail time and eventually entered the witness protection program to avoid retaliation from the mob boss he ratted out during his own murder trial. While the formal charges against Brown were false, he did in fact commit several murders during the years of his involvement with the mob. Brown turns out to be a lovable criminal - he never wanted to be associated with the mob, and has gladly left his killing days behind in favor of saving lives through medicine, although he is obviously disillusioned by what he has seen of the health care field.The past catches up to Brown when he finds himself rounding on a mobster who is being treated for stomach cancer at Manhattan Catholic. The mobster recognizes Brown, compromising the new identity established for him by the witness protection program, and putting his life in danger once again. The narrative switches between past and present, with the present taking place within the span of one day, inside the hospital walls and the past gradually telling the story of Brown's colorful past.The first few pages of this book had me wondering what exactly I was getting myself into. It is very different from my typical reading fare. Bazell, a medical resident at the University of California, San Francisco, employs a raw, edgy writing style, peppered liberally with profanity and definitely-not-politically-correct references to certain body parts, not to mention scenes of violence described with a level of detail that probably comes easily to a trained physician but can be rather shocking to someone who isn't used to blood and guts.That said, I really enjoyed this book. It was easy to read and the plot had enough suspense to not only keep me guessing about what would happen next and what exactly had happened in Brown's past, but also to keep me from wanting to put the book down each time I picked it up. The gritty writing style, which threw me for a loop at first, eventually seemed almost necessary to telling the story of who exactly Peter Brown was.Bazell's commentary on the state of health care was the secondary story line of this novel, much of it told through the very comical use of footnotes. Peter Brown had an interesting perspective on hospitals, doctors, and his patients. On the surface, he seemed hardened and uncaring but a certain sympathy and somewhat unorthodox dedication to the medical field eventually emerged and proved redeeming. It left me wondering if this element of the story was perhaps autobiographical. Either way, I found it paradoxically alarming and hilarious.In the end, I was very glad I stepped outside my self-imposed reading boundaries and picked up this book. Apparently Bazell is at work on his second novel and I'm looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next and how his writing style evolves.
TrishNYC on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It was entertaining but I could have done without the vulgarity and bad language especially at the beginning. The basic story is that of Peter Brown who is in the witness program after having committed certain crimes in his previous life. In his new incarnation, he is a doctor and works at one of the worst hospitals in Manhattan, New York. In the first scene he is mugged while watching a rat and pigeon engaged in a tug of war(yes crazy stuff like that happens in this book). He disarms the mugger quite violently and goes off for his rounds in the hospital. Unfortunately for him when he gets into the hospital, he meets someone who causes his old and new lives to collide. He spends the rest of the novel trying to stay alive while educating the reader as to his old self. His tales will make you laugh out loud but also make you cringe. The main character is definitely not anyone's hero and is really guilty of all he is accused of. He keeps company with bad people and does bad things(at least in his old life). The book is funny, quirky and definitely different from much of what I usually read. I felt that some parts of it dragged but all in it was well done.
24girl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
As part of the Witness Protection Program, Pietro ¿Bear Claw¿ Brnwa, is relocated from New Jersey as a mob hit man to become Dr. Peter Brown who works Manhattan Catholic, one of the city¿s worst hospitals. One morning during rounds he bumps into a patient with stomach cancer by the name of Nicholas LoBrutto. Turns out Nicholas also goes by the name of Eddy Squillante and if Peter would have know this he would have ran out the back door instead of into the hospital room. But he didn¿t and Eddy gives him ultimatum¿ keep him alive or the mob will find out exactly what happened to Pietro Brnwa. Told in alternating flashbacks from the present to his gruesome past Beat the Reaper is a laugh a minute thrill ride. I listened to this book on audio CDs so I got the added benefit of hearing the sarcasm and wit instead of just imagining it. Both in the past and in the present Peter goes through some amazing adventures and lives a wild life. The horrors of the hospital were so awful you can only pray that places this hopeless don¿t exist in real life. I read an article saying that Beat the Reaper is already optioned for a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio to star as Peter. I would definitely be first in line to see it and I highly recommend reading/listening to the book so when your friends start talking about it, you¿ll be in the know.
iluvvideo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An amazing page turner that keeps you engrossed from the very beginning. The story is told in a gripping stream of consciousness style that I couldn't put down.The narrator takes us from the murder of his grandparents/guardians; through his plot to extract revenge for their deaths; to a time as a mob assassin; into the Witness Protection Program and finally into his current life as a doctor at Manhattan Christian Hospital, the bottom rung of the city's hospitals. Follow Dr. Peter Brown through his most daunting challenge of all, when he's identified by a terminal patient (and mob made man!) as The Bearclaw, his old mob moniker, and threatened with exposure to mobsters seeking revenge, if Dr. Brown doesn't bring him through life threatening surgery safely! Can he beat the reaper?
felius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Beat The Reaper" by Josh Bazel is what I imagine you'd get if Quentin Tarantino had written House M.D. Loved it!
samuraibunny on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is probably the first non-school fiction that I've ever read that has footnotes. The footnotes are sometimes informative and always humorous. Just like the rest of the book, may I add. The book is split between the past and the present. I thought it was a little weird that it alternated, but it turned out to work well, especially in the beginning, when I was more interested in Pietro's action filled past, as opposed to his seemingly half-a$$ed attempt at being a doctor.A warning to the squeamish (or not so, because I was quite disturbed as well), there is one VERY disturbing scene in this book. It should not deter you from reading this book, however, just a word of caution.
Lallybroch on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I don't usually look at reviews of books before I read them, but I did see Beat the Reaper compared to Quentin Tarantino's films, and have to completely agree! There were quite a few action scenes that reminded me of Kill Bill. I could easily picture the action in slow motion, much like in the movie. Some of the action had a surreal quality to it. I would be reading along and wonder what could possibly go wrong next. Peter was a complex character, which I wasn't expecting. Sometimes his actions didn't match his words though. There were a few times that Peter seemed to hate his job, but then also seemed sad at the thought of no longer being a doctor. I sometimes had a hard time understanding his motivation for doing certain things. Beat the Reaper is off-beat, original and often hilarious, and I would recommend it to anyone looking for a fun read in the new year. I also hope to see another book featuring Peter Brown, and can't wait to see what Josh Bazell's next book brings!
TheBoltChick on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was one of those books that wouldn't let me put it down. It started off at breakneck speed and never slowed down. A great noir crime romp, with all kinds of medical trivia tidbits thrown in.
kysmom02 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Funny book! An ex mob hit man in the witness protection program is placed at a hospital as a doctor. It's viewed as his punishment for all the people that he'd killed while a part of the mob. The story is a 24 hour period where Dr. Brown is trying to save lives in the hospital while also trying to save his own. One of his patients recognizes him and Dr. Brown knows that his cover has been blown and that he will need to beat the reaper!I enjoyed this book and found myself laughing at Dr. Brown's predicament. It's a comical approach to a suspensful thriller. There is a lot of medical terminology and description as well as adult language. Overall, it's a quick and easy read, and quite enjoyable.
b-scene on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
PICK THIS BOOK UP!I brought this book with me on a recent trip home and my lil sister stole it and did not return it until she was finished, which also happened to be on my way BACK to the airport. Yup, that's how good it was.One reader compared this book to a mix between "House" and "The Sopranos." That is nearly dead on! I may have even gasped at one point while reading this. Okay, maybe twice. Forget about sleeping. Once you crack open the first page, you will NOT put it down.
mikm468 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you are a fan of Medical fiction and the Sopranos you are going to enjoy this book. I knew nothing about the book when I got it. I was not sure if I liked it when I started it. The books concept was very interesting. I liked how the author jumped back and forth between the mob stuff and all the medical stuff. The use of the footnotes to exlain the medical stuff was awesome. However I read some stuff I think I was better off not knowing. I am looking forward to more books by Josh Bazell.
nbmars on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an often exciting thriller perfect for a long day on an airplane or a rainy Saturday with nothing to do. The language and sexual descriptions were a bit of a turn-off for me, but I tend to be a bit of a prude. In any event, it¿s not what you¿d call ¿great literature,¿ but it¿s pretty good entertainment.Peter Brown is the witness-protection name of Pietro Brnwa, called ¿Bearclaw¿ by the New Jersey mob for which he served as a hitman. Now he¿s a doctor working in a run-down New York hospital, but he hasn¿t quite left his old lifestyle behind him. His past forces him to run a daily gauntlet with The Reaper. In the meanwhile, his flip and trenchant observations about health care and hospital life are as fun and interesting as you might imagine for a noir version of Grey¿s Anatomy. I must say that in spite of the book sometimes being gross and distasteful, I think the writing shows some definite skill. The author (who narrates in chapters that alternate back and forth in time) makes his protagonist sound so real, I kept feeling like this must have really happened to him. ¿I hope not. I prefer my doctors to be godlike! Fun read.
Kittybee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I didn't hate it but didn't love it either. Beat the Reaper was an early reviewer book and wasn't something that I normally would pick out. Although I had some issues with it, I did end up reading it in one night and did enjoy certain aspects of it, but I can't say I would seek out other books by the author.
brewergirl on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the story of Dr. Peter Brown ... a former mob hitman, now in the witness protection program, and a hospital intern. His former life and his current life collide when a former mob associate comes into the hospital as a patient. While the story moves along in the current day, we also learn through flashbacks about his early life in the mob and his search for answers to his grandparents' murder.It is an incredibly violent story at times but it was a fun read. I had to suspend disbelief through much of it, because one person could not possibly experience all this ... but it was certainly entertaining.
jaimelesmaths on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Interesting premise, and a very quick read. The constant profanity was a distraction, and the plot was a bit thin, but it definitely kept my interest. More violent in places than I usually like, but I enjoyed the sarcastic attitude of the narrator/protagonist. Defies genre, but similar in some respects to Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club. Overall 3.5/5
docbells on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
***spoilers*** This novel picked me up from the first couple pages and kept me hooked up to the end. I loved 95% of this book. The 5% I did not like is the how the book ended - specifically with regards to the plausibility of how he was able to break his own leg bone and remove from his leg without passing out or dying from blood loss... oh well... I will probably read from this author again.
trav on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a faaaaaaast read. And I don't just mean that it's short or easy writing. I mean the pace doesn't let up, even with the flip flopping between flashbacks and the storyline.The premise is that an ex-mob hitman is trying to make a go of it as a doctor, when he's recognized one day while on rounds by an old mob acquaintance. This, of course, throws his drug-laden brain into overdrive. So we're thrown into his day as he deals with the mob, the past, modern medicine, and interns.It's full of the gratuitous violence and sex that modern crime/mob books have. But it all seems tempered, just a tad, when you're reading through the eyes of a medically trained hitman. It's one thing to put a hurting on someone, it's a whole other thing to do it while giving pithy commentary, piling on footnotes and explaining the science of why the body does what it does. I for one enjoyed all the footnotes.This is the quintessential summer reading novel. Nothing more. Great fun. As ewwwww as the final showdown in the freezer is, the scary part is thinking that half his footnotes may actually be right and that doctors may all really be that hopped up.
JechtShot on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beat the Reaper chronicles the life and times of a mobster turned doctor thanks to the witness protection program. I loved this book from page one and could not put it down. The pacing was excellent. The characters were likable. The writing is witty and intelligent. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick fun read (provided you are not too squeamish). Kudos to Josh Bazell and I look forward to the next novel!
mabrown2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
"Beat the Reaper" is as humorous and witty as it is harsh and shocking. I often found myself laughing out loud and immediately cringing afterwards. Dr. Peter Brown (formerly Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwa) is a compelling character full of flaws and brutal honesty and author Bazell manages to interject a lot of medical jargon in interesting and often hilarious ways. The story itself goes back and forth between Brown's current situation (former hitman working in a hospital and getting spotted by a member of the mob who alerts his buddies to his whereabouts) and his past (all of the major events in his life that led him to where he is now). The back story is actually more detailed and more interesting than his current, and while I liked most of the book, I thought the alternating back and forth ultimately hurt the ending. I won't give anything away, but I felt the ending was a bit unsatisfying. After all of that build-up it was over quite quickly and we were left without much explanation or detail about what happened. And then it's all over. A lot of questions were left unanswered though they weren't major questions central to the story. Still, everything leading up to the ending was great. There were a few times when I felt Bazell went a little overboard with the shock-factor but still, it all came together and worked for me. The humor is consistent throughout the whole novel and is really what makes this novel stand out so much. I highly recommend it, just be prepared to be a bit uncomfortable at times.