Beat the Reaper

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Overview

Meet Peter Brown, a young Manhattan emergency room doctor with an unusual past that is just about to catch up with him. His morning begins with the quick disarming of a would-be mugger, followed by a steamy elevator encounter with a sexy young pharmaceutical rep, topped off by a visit with a new patient—and from there Peter's day is going to get a whole lot worse and a whole lot weirder. Because that patient knows Peter from his other life, when he had a different name and a very different job. The only reason ...

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Overview

Meet Peter Brown, a young Manhattan emergency room doctor with an unusual past that is just about to catch up with him. His morning begins with the quick disarming of a would-be mugger, followed by a steamy elevator encounter with a sexy young pharmaceutical rep, topped off by a visit with a new patient—and from there Peter's day is going to get a whole lot worse and a whole lot weirder. Because that patient knows Peter from his other life, when he had a different name and a very different job. The only reason he's a doctor now is thanks to the Witness Protection Program—and even they can't protect him from the long reach of the New Jersey mob. Now he's got to do whatever it takes to keep his patient alive so he can buy some time...and beat the reaper.

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  • Beat the Reaper
    Beat the Reaper  

Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers
Uma Thurman's miraculous resurrection in Pulp Fiction may have had the faint of heart squirming, but that was Disney material compared to what Bazell's misguided, misdirected, and misanthropic hero faces daily in this outrageous novel. Peter Brown (a.k.a. Bearclaw to a select few) is a doctor at a New York hospital. That his past can be described as shady is an understatement. That it may have included killing a couple of dozen people (albeit the dregs of society) is information known only to a few remaining goombahs and the federal witness protection program.

With an attitude honed by daily rounds and cantankerous charges, Dr. Brown has no idea what the next 24 hours hold. His day begins by doing serious damage to a would-be mugger, followed by an X-rated encounter in the hospital elevator with a sexy pharmaceutical rep. And his newest patient knows him from his old life. It's starting to look like even the feds can't protect him from his former pals in the New Jersey mob and an undesirable date with the grim reaper.

One part Tarantino, two parts Grey's Anatomy, with a soupcon of The Sopranos thrown in for good measure, Beat the Reaper is an exuberant tale that bobs and weaves while throwing some wild punches. Sardonic, witty, self-deprecating, and profane, Bazell's Dr. Brown is an unlikely hero whose misadventures make for a highly entertaining novel. (Spring 2009 Selection)
Matt Ruff
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. Bazell has a knack for breathing new life into the most timeworn genre conventions.
—The New York Times
Ron Charles
Beat the Reaper is a hypochondriac's nightmare but a reader's dream…After I gulped down the doctor's story, my pulse was racing so fast I didn't know whether to recommend his outrageous first novel or sue for malpractice…Bazell has sutured together Alan Alda's Capt. Hawkeye and James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, and so long as he keeps everything operating fast enough, it's too much fun and too much gore to take your eyes off the page.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Crackling dialogue and rich characters distinguish Bazell's debut thriller. Dr. Peter Brown is living a double life and one of his patients may have uncovered the doctor's secret. Brown was formerly Pietro Brnwa, a vicious mob hit man who would be "the last person you want to see in your hospital room." Robert Petkoff delivers a solid performance as both Brown and Brnwa, distinct and well-crafted personalities whose flaws, needs and desires somehow coexist in this mystery. Bazell's writing is raw and endlessly witty, a combination that isn't always realistic, but with Petkoff behind the microphone it's a great ride. A Little, Brown hardcover (Reviews, Oct. 27). (Jan.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

In this debut thriller, an intern at a run-down Manhattan hospital who's atoning for his former life as a mob hit man encounters in the course of a single day a patient with a mystery illness, a 21-year-old girl about to have a leg amputated, and a former mob associate. His attempts to avoid the mob and see his patients are interspersed with an account of his past misadventures. Actor Robert Petkoff does an excellent job of voicing the protagonist as a cynical, street-wise young man who wants to do the right thing and remain alive. Highly recommended. [Audio clip available through www.hachettebookgroup.com; the Little, Brown hc received a starred review, LJ12/08.-Ed.]
—Deb West

Kirkus Reviews
The past comes knocking for a physician with a fistful of secrets. Medical resident Bazell opens his debut novel with a bone-crunching interlude between Manhattan ER doctor Peter Brown and a mugger whom he beats senseless, then treats for injuries. Brown soon confesses that his real name is Pietro Brnwa. He's a former hit man whose lethal trade drove him into the witness-protection program, where he reinvented himself as a pill-popping trauma physician. "It's a weird curse, when you think about it," says the killer turned doc. "We're built for thought, and civilization, more than any other creature we've found. And all we really want to be is killers." The past catches up with Brown when a terminal patient at the hospital recognizes him as the mob assassin called "Bearclaw." The patient threatens to out Brown if he does not work to save the man's life. Bazell's profane, hyperactive novel is readable and fun, and no fan of shoot-'em-ups or medical dramas can afford to miss it. Among the book's highlights is a riotous set of doctor's rounds that find Brown making out with a cancer patient, chasing down a wheelchair-bound fugitive and suffering a particularly vile needle stick. A wildly funny mashup between genres that makes ER and St. Elsewhere look tame. Agent: Markus Hoffmann/Regal Literary
Winston Salem Journal
"I couldn't wait to slip in the next CD...It's not just this setup that works so wonderfully; it's Bazell's brutal, completely contemporary way of telling his story that is so compelling. Brown is a fully realized, pill-popping, arm-twisting maniac whose back-story is told exuberantly by first-person narrator Robert Petkoff, in a brilliant performance."
New York Daily News
"Savagely diverting....BEAT THE REAPER only gets better, turn by turn, page by page."
Time
Electrifyingly hilarious in that Elmore Leonard way.
Matt Ruff
Josh Bazell is an unusually talented writer....[he] more than earned my indulgence as a reader. If there's a better recommendation for a story than that, I don't know what it is.
The New York Times Book Review
Adam Woog
Unpredictable, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking.
Seattle Times
Ron Charles
Beware the risk of dependency....a hypochondriac's nightmare but a reader's dream.... Bazell has sutured together Alan Alda's Capt. Hawkeye and James Gandolfini's Tony Soprano, and so long as he keeps everything operating fast enough, it's too much fun and too much gore to take your eyes off the page.
Washington Post Book World
James Pressley
Fiction reviewers live for openers like this...[a] breakneck cross between a hospital drama, The Godfather and a Quentin Tarantino film....Moxie must be Bazell's middle name. Asking us to sympathize with a hardened doctor is tough enough. Getting us to identify with a contract killer who packed .45 automatics with silencers is a coup.
Bloomberg News
Salem Macknee
Four stars...[a] fast, funny ride...Bazell keeps the story moving at warp speed.
Charlotte Observer
Audible.com Editor's Pick
This mordant and maniacal debut has junkie doctors and negligent nurses galore, which is somewhat brow-raising given that it was penned by a genuine doctor. Robert Petkoff does an excellent job integrating the author's dispassionate asides (figured in the printed book as footnotes) into the main story.
Carol Memmott
Outrageously funny....BEAT THE REAPER may be the most imaginative debut of the year.
USA Today
Benjamin Svetkey
It's just what the doctor ordered....Think House meets The Sopranos.
Entertainment Weekly
New York Times Book Review
"Completely outrageous...genuinely entertaining."
Charlotte Observer
"A fast, funny ride....Bazell keeps the story moving at warp speed."
Bloombert News
"A breakneck cross between a hospital drama, The Godfather, and a Quentin Tarantino film."
Washington Post Book World
"It's too much fun and too much gore to take your eyes off the page."
Audible.Com Editor's Pick
"This mordant and maniacal debut has junkie doctors and negligent nurses galore, which is somewhat brow-raising given that it was penned by a genuine doctor. Robert Petkoff does an excellent job integrating the author's dispassionate asides (figured in the printed book as footnotes) into the main story."
USA Today
"Outrageously funny....BEAT THE REAPER may be the most imaginative debut of the year."
Entertainment Weekly
"It's just what the doctor ordered....Think House meets The Sopranos."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780316037556
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
  • Publication date: 1/7/2009
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 406
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

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

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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
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 156 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(67)

4 Star

(47)

3 Star

(29)

2 Star

(6)

1 Star

(7)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 156 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 20, 2009

    the book everyone's talking about!

    don't be the last on your block to read this high-octane and hilarious thriller which will have you breathing hard through the whole 5 hours you'll be holding the damp covers in your clammy hands.<BR/>hard to imagine a book that is educational AND sensational but here it is. you'll be lost in a uniquely entertaining world and ready for the next installment from this young author! (and also primed, it seems, to see the Leo DiCaprio movie they're planning to make from this hot little number.....)<BR/><BR/>UNLEASH THE HOUNDS!

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2010

    Beat The Reaper Beats ALL

    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

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 5, 2009

    Page turner

    The footnotes in this book are great. Page turner that will have you finishing this book in short order. Great premise.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 11, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Outrageous and oddly haunting

    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.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 23, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Not For Everyone

    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!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 20, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Two Thumbs Up!

    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.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 12, 2009

    This book will rip your face off

    An amazingly absorbing, face-paced, and confident first novel with testosterone blazing off the pages. Genre-bending, hilarious, violent, historical, and with enough bitterness about medicine, hypocrisy, and love to scorch the earth.<BR/><BR/>Can't recommend highly enough!

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 4, 2009

    Wow

    This is an amazing book. Certainly one of the most entertaining I've read in several years, but also informative and moving.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 16, 2014

    more from this reviewer

    Okay, I¿ll admit to a soft spot for books I describe as ¿a box f

    Okay, I’ll admit to a soft spot for books I describe as “a box full of crazy.” Beat the Reaper certainly fits that description. An exercise in audacious bad taste from page one, it takes on both Mob procedurals and medical thrillers and leaves them with bloody noses (and other things).

    Books of this sort need an antihero protagonist, and this one has two in the body of one man: Dr. Peter Brown, intern from Hell at the hospital from Hell, and Pietro Brnwa, stone killer for the Mob until he disappeared into Witness Protection. Dr. Brown takes us on a forced march through a couple days during which one of his patients recognizes him from his previous career, with unfortunate results; Pietro spends some time explaining how he ended up in this situation in the first place. Both stories are kaleidoscopes of bad behavior, random nasty death, recreational and occupational pharmaceutical abuse, sex in improbable places, sharks – finned and two-legged – and exceedingly unattractive people with unusual nicknames. No, really, it’s a lot more fun than you might think, especially if you have a strong stomach.

    Brown/Brnwa, despite being a brutal, nearly reflexive killer, is actually okay company, the kind of guy you wouldn’t mind hearing tell stories at the bar (thinking he’s making them up) as long as you can sit closer to the door. His footnoted digressions are usually both funny and informative. It’s hard to call such a person “sympathetic,” and he isn’t really, but he’s less repellent than most of the other major characters and you need someone like him to make it through this wild trip, so he’s the one you ride with. That the most sympathetic character is a big-pharma sales rep tells you something about this novel’s universe.

    Settings are well-realized and the characters are vivid and distinctive. Bazell is a doctor, and those medical scenes have an aura of disturbing authenticity that will make you vow to die before you ever step inside a hospital again. At the same time, the Mob-life scenes also have a kind of reality even though they’re about as different from The Godfather as you can get.

    As in Savages, there’s really nobody in this book you’d want to spend a lot of time with; after you left that bar you met Brown/Brnwa in, you’d be looking over your shoulder for weeks. The climax goes so over-the-top and gets so nasty that all the stuff you’ve been shoving back into your stomach up to that point will come knocking on your larynx’s back door…and then things get wrapped up amazingly neatly in a fictional world that’s been hella messy until the last chapter. That’s what happened to the fifth star, in case you wondered. I really, really want half a star.

    Twisted, brutal, crazy, funny, outlandish, messy – did I miss anything? Doesn’t matter. If you think Savages is too reality-based and that Serge Storms could really rock if he started getting serious about his killing, you’ll love this. If you’re tired of introspective addiction-of-the-week protagonists Trying to Do the Right Thing and want to see the hero do the wrong thing most of the time, you’ll love this. Beat the Reaper will cleanse your palate of that Nordic-noir thing you just read. Did I mention there’s a sequel (Wild Thing)? There is. I’ll read it, let you know how it goes. You? Get cracking on this one.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 11, 2014

    Wooohooo!

    Fast paced, violent, & nonstop. Couldn't put it down, not even for Hurricane Sandy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2013

    So fun and funny

    Edgy colorful and funny. Has everything. Page turner.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 24, 2013

    Excellent

    Both books are great!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2013

    This is a very descriptive and winding tale. Past and present ev

    This is a very descriptive and winding tale. Past and present events are interwoven into a cohesive and enjoyable tale of a man running from the past. In a way, the tale is reminiscent of a graphic novel (without the graphics.)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2013

    Not bad

    Not a bad read. It was a bit farfetched and scattered in the plot.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 17, 2013

    Great read

    Fast paced, original story. Great character and witty dialogue. Bearclaw isn't your run of the mill hitman.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    Poor plot, sickening language.

    I never would have bought it had the written description on Bookbub been more accurate.

    Didn't finish reading it. Will delete from my nook.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 14, 2012

    Amazing

    Riveting!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 28, 2012

    Will keep you entertained.

    The story moves along and holds your interest.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 7, 2012

    not funny

    it's called a hilarious read ... but it's not. just potty mouth language. check that. fourteen year old boys will probably love it.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2012

    Good

    It was very entertaining and even well written. The problem is there was not a lot to it, I'd compare it to a short story just with more pages. I've just finished it about an hour ago and wish there was more to it so I could connect more emotionally with the protagonist. Having said that I will probably buy the sequel when it gets released in paperback.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 156 Customer Reviews

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