Fiction: “Beat the Reaper” by Josh Bazell

When I went to the library last week to pick up A Single Man, I did the thing I always do when I go to the library: pick up like, four other books that I cannot under any circumstances read in three weeks instead of the one title that I had actually reserved. But this actually worked well: I’d seen Beat the Reaper a few times at Border’s, and every time I pick the book up, read the back, and then put it down, thinking to myself, “I’ll get it later.” So this time, I got to read it, and for free!

I have got to start doing that more often. Maybe if I didn’t tend to rack up so much guilt on overdue fees …

Anyway. Beat the Reaper was awesome. It was the first book I’ve read in a while where, when I wasn’t reading the book, I was thinking about what was going on in the book. I can’t remember the last time that happened. Now, the preoccupation with the book wasn’t anything near the preoccupation I had when I first read The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, where I was totally reading the book while in the drive-thru at Starbucks, but Beat the Reaper is one of the better books I’ve read recently.

Dr. Peter Brown is doing rounds at one of the worst hospitals in Manhattan when he runs into an old … acquaintance, let’s call him: Eddie Squillante. With a name like that, you can guess about how Dr. Brown met Squillante. If you answered “in the mob,” you’d be correct.

Turns out, Dr. Peter Brown is actually the Witness Protection alias of Pietro Brnwa, a former hit man for the mob.

Without giving away the store: Squillante ‘makes’ Brnwa, and threatens to release that information upon the event of his death. Desperate to retain his new alias and life as a doctor, Brnwa must now find a way to keep Squillante alive following a gastrectomy – that’s removing the stomach, apparently (yeah, I had to look it up. I stopped watching Grey’s Anatomy three years ago), and on top of that, he also got accidentally stuck with a needle filled of biopsy sample, so he could also die without being hit by the mob.

The chapters rotate, so one chapter will be about the present, and the next chapter will be about the past: how Brnwa became a hitman, what motivated him, et cetera.

As I said, this was a great read. If I had been able to, I would have read it much faster than I did. But I kept falling asleep! (Like I am now, at two in the morning. *eyeroll*)

And now, the quotes!

On the tiebreaker, though, sharks win. Because while we humans have our minds and our ability to transmit the contents of them down through the generations, and sharks have their big ol’ teeth and the means to use them, sharks don’t appear to agonize about the situation. [28]

Reason this was funny: I totally started reading this during Shark Week. And my car is a shark. And I won a plastic shark for my car at Palace Playland. And sharks and sharks and more sharks and SHARKS ARE THE NEW LOST.

This quote makes me think that if Brnwa hadn’t gotten involved with the Mob (and lived in Boston), he’d be a Boondock Saint:

No female targets (which was obvious), but also no targets whose misdeeds were solely in the past. Only ongoing threats. I had no way of knowing why my grandparents had let —– live, but she was a woman, and killing her brother had been enough to shut down their operation. So there you had it.

Meanwhile, if David Locano wanted to sic me on killers whose deaths would improve the world, I would verify his information and then feel free — obligated, even — to hunt them down and kill them. [108]

U2 may be a great band, and may be one of my favorite bands, but it doesn’t keep them from being wrong on occasion:

… and shortly afterwards that U2 song comes on about how Martin Luther King was shot in the early morning of April fourth. Martin Luther King was shot in the evening, even if you’re on Dublin time, but the U2 greatest-hits album is something you learn to live with in medicine. [187]

Entire chunks of the corner of the wall we’d been kneeling against just evaporated, like in one of those movies where a time traveler changes something in the future and things start to vanish in the present. [204]

He gets that TIME TRAVEL SHOULD BE LIKE IN BACK TO THE FUTURE. I love him for that.

Finally, this book’s rating was raised from a 3.5 to a 4 just for the following:

Lainie’s foxy, but she’s married. Granted, to a man who looks twelve and wears a basketball jersey long enough to be a cocktail dress, but homey don’t play that. [44]

I mean, come on: what other book that I could possibly read (aside from something by Chuck Klosterman) would ever quote Homey D. Clown?

Grade for Beat the Reaper: 4 stars

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