When Variety reported New Regency was acquiring screen rights to Beat the Reaper: A Novel by Josh Bazell and eyeing Leonardo DiCaprio, I couldn't see it. The protagonist, Dr. Peter Brown (Pietro Brwna) AKA "Bearclaw," is a big guy. Hulkish even.
So I looked up DiCaprio's in development list. Beat The Reaper is there, along with 22 other films. I dunno, maybe DiCaprio could play the antagonist. He might make for a fanciful villain, like Adam Locano, whom Peter befriends in college with the hope of one day finding the mobsters who killed his grandparents. He does.
Beat The Reaper Is Two Comical Crime Rides In One.
Beat The Reaper is an adrenaline-fueled fast read that tells two stories at the same time. The real time world of Dr. Peter Brown, a resident physician at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. And, the story of Pietro Brwna before he entered the Federal Witness Protection Program.
The unusual twist of events that turns this spirited, streetwise and foul-mouthed hit man into a physician is anything but common. Author Josh Bazell makes a convincing case for the one-time exception, occasionally reminding readers that the Federal Witness Protection Program elevator's next stop is the basement.
What is less clear is why Brwna stays in New York. But you won't have time to ask.
The book opens as someone just attempted to mug the good doctor. Bad day for the mugger. Between his instincts as a killer and newly acquired knowledge as a medical doctor, Brwna is formidable. He doesn't kill the assailant, but he does send him to Manhattan Catholic just before having sex with a medical sales rep in an elevator and acquiring a sample pack of Moxfane.
All of this happens in the short span of a few pages of the first chapter, which makes for a staccato read. By chapter two, the writing smooths out with a tag team storytelling approach to both intense timelines.
However, the first chapter also sets the tone for the entire book. It's raw, emotional, unpredictable, graphic, comical, and sometimes twisted. The dry wit bites as hard as the character, and Brwna knows how to tell a joke. His observations as a mob hardened doctor in a hospital will make you smile and wince about your next visit at the same time.
"Pietro Brnwa felt perfect to me pretty much as soon as I came up with him," Josh Bazell told Three Guys One Book in a rare interview. "I was looking for a character able to survive, but also understand, dangerous situations involving science and medicine."
As a first novel, Beat The Reaper is impressive. Sure, there are a few moments that will throw you, and one or two scenes are absurd.
The most blatant of which is giving Peter the wherewithal to have a sexual encounter while he and his girlfriend are trapped in a frenzied shark tank. With the dead bodies floating around nearby, it's hard to see the aphrodisiac, primal intensity or not.
It wasn't needed and even the character is defensive about the scene. The only redemption is it does reinforce the depth of the characterization. Brwna has tunnel vision during intense moments, an excellent trait for a hit man and doctor. In those moments, he only focuses on himself and the task at hand. Any other time, he is a surprisingly thoughtful and endearing character.
As for Bazell, I expect to see more. He entered the PhD program in English literature at Duke University before earning his MD from Columbia University. In fact, he was working the night shift as a medical intern when publishers fought over the rights to his novel. He is currently working on his second novel. It's expected to be more straightforward, with Brwna still at the helm.
Beat The Reaper Is Kills With A 7.1 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale.
In addition to paperback (above link), Beat the Reaper: A Novel by Josh Bazell is available for the Amazon Kindle. Beat The Reaper was also recently added as an audiobook on iTunes.
The audio preview of Robert Petkoff doesn't seem to connect well with our surprisingly fast and cunning hit man, who once glued soles three sizes smaller to the bottom of his own shoes to cover his tracks. Petkoff has a great voice. It just doesn't seem husky enough to carry the first person accounting of Brnwa once you've read it.