Return of Santitas # CBR 4 # Beat the Reaper and Wild Thing by Josh Bazell
The first time I read Beat the Reaper I was astounded by how good it is, and then instantly was sad that I can never read it for the first time again.
Beat the Reaper tells the story of Dr. Peter Brown, aka Pietro Brnwna, aka “The Bearclaw”. Brnwna was a contract killer for the mafia who is now in the witness protection program, working off his bad karma in a shitty Manhattan hospital (or are all hospitals so shitty? Better not to know). As the book opens, Brnwna is recognized by a mobbed up patient, triggering a disconcerting series of events that are absurdly, darkly funny. Interspersed is a look at how Brnwna became involved with the mob in the first place.
But first we check out Brnwna’s current life as a doctor. There is a lot of medical underbelly on display in this book:
“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.”
That quote is the least of your worries, by the way.
In Wild Thing we return once again to Dr. Peter Brown, now working on a cruise ship in an attempt to stay mobile and ahead of the mob. Brown is approached by a reclusive billionaire (referred to throughout the book as Rec Bill) who asks him to accompany a sexy, self destructive paleontologist* on a trip to the wilds of Minnesota to explore the veracity of an urban legend. Did that make any sense to you? Don’t worry about it.
In Beat the Reaper, Bazell manages to integrate a lot of really interesting factual** shit into the story quite naturally–for example, a young Brnwna pays a chilling visit to the Auschwitz-Berkinau-Monowitz complex. Wild Thing, on the other hand, seems to be crafted specifically for the purpose of including interesting shit. It’s skewed shit, as well–there are some cheap shots fired around, particularly in the takedown of a major political figure.
Wild Thing is a lot more random and weird than Beat the Reaper, and it isn’t grounded in quite the same strength of characterization. Brnwna comes across as a watered-down version of himself and seems to have stopped snorting drugs all day long, which I guess is good in terms of his health but is less fun for the reader.
That said, Wild Thing‘s more lighthearted absurdity is quite enjoyable, especially if you happen to share Bazell’s political leanings. If you don’t, the book is probably still a good read, but you might feel a bit hard done by in certain sections.
In closing, check this out: Sorry You Asked
* Josh Bazell, I want to love everything you do, but why does this paleontologist have to be a damaged bombshell stereotype? BITE ME.
** It’s presented as factual, at least.