05-21-2010 05:50 PM
by Josh Bazell
I normally find footnotes in a novel a little annoying rather than clarifying (David Foster Wallace, Junot Diaz) but the footnotes in Beat the Reaper are like funny WebMD facts: *Like a woman's escutcheon, if you've been paying attention.You learn things. And I take Bazell's medical attention seriously—he has an MD from Columbia on top of his BA in English from Brown.
Beat the Reaper's protagonist, Dr. Peter Brown, is a former contract killer for the Mafia. But after throwing his best friend out the window, he decides that he needs a change and enters medical school. But his medical coat doesn't mean that he has lost his street education: he moves the novel along quickly, a little violently (the word "**bleep**head" announces itself in the first sentence).
Now for the mystery part. Dr. Brown is running his rounds when a stomach cancer patient, Eddy Squillante, recognizes him. Eddy is an mobster. He makes Dr. Brown an offer—keep him alive and his new doctor identity is safe, let him die and face the wrath of his mobster friends.
The novel is impossible to put down. It has a rich mythology—think Jonathan Safran Foer—but with much more danger--Jonathan Safran Foer directed by the Coen brothers. Not exactly comic, not exactly thriller, not exactly mystery, Beat the Ripper leaves no loose ends and no anticipation unsatisfied.
It's an awesome first novel. Has anyone else read it? Thoughts?
05-21-2010 06:30 PM