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Beat the Reaper    by Josh Bazell order for
Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2008 (2008)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Josh Brazell's Beat the Reaper is a peripatetic shocker from the first page to the last. Brazell begins by revealing his protagonist, Pietro Brwna (aka Peter Brown), to the reader as a rather brawny intern, coping surprisingly well with a mugger's attack while on his way to the Manhattan hospital where he works long hours.

Bazell continues the fast-paced action - interspersed with contextually relevant anatomy lessons and discussion of patient treatments - while enlisting the reader's sympathy for Pietro's childhood (raised by loving Polish Jewish grandparents, Holocaust survivors who were murdered when he was fourteen). Pietro's drive for closure led him to train long and hard in martial arts and to friendship with pudgy Adam 'Skinflick' Locano, son of a Mafia accountant, who took his son's best friend into the family. Through flashbacks we see how this led to Pietro becoming Peter as part of the Witness Protection program. Peter's comment on his past actions? 'Ah, youth. It's like heroin you've smoked instead of snorted. Gone so fast you can't believe you still have to pay for it.'

After visiting a new patient, Peter realizes that his life is about to fall apart. Nicholas LoBrutto has stomach cancer and has arranged to out Dr. Peter Brown to the mob if he dies - which looks like it could happen at any moment. As Peter rushes between patients and tries to keep the reaper from LoBrutto, flashbacks show how Skinflick's obsession with his cousin Denise and Pietro's love for Magdalena (a viola player) brought Dr. Brown to this new secret life at Manhattan Catholic. They also reveal who wants to destroy the intern up close and personal. As Peter and the reader wonder whether he can forge a new identity before his enemies catch up with him, he's confronted with a tough choice. His response wins a degree of redemption for past actions that he now regrets.

Overall, Beat the Reaper is an explosive debut, the author enriching his story by injecting into it his own experience as an intern 'at a hospital not at all like the one described in this book.' The conclusion is outstanding and I hope we'll see more of Dr. Peter Brown - the sooner the better. Don't miss this one!

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