Mash up the best scenes of Dexter, House and The Sopranos, and Beat the Reaper (Little, Brown) is what you get. Josh Bazell's debut novel grabs you by the shoulders and throws you into the world of Pietro “The Bearclaw” Brwna, aka Peter Brown M.D. This hulking contract killer took early retirement from life in La Cosa Nostra and now, under safeguard of the witness protection program, works a shitty shift as an ER physician in New York City's skeeviest hospital. Life for the reformed hit-man is miserable enough, but it gets worse when a terminally ill Mafioso falls under his care. The made-man recognizes Bearclaw, lets the mob in on his whereabouts and leaves the drug-addled doctor with hours to save the dying mobster so “the family” doesn't think Bearclaw clipped him.
Beat the Reaper is a fast-paced thriller that had eight publishing houses competing for it. What's more, Leonardo DiCaprio bought the film rights. (Leo's rumored to play Bearclaw in the adaptation.) In all, not too shabby for a debut book from a moonlighting med student.
Bazell, a native New Yorker, wrote Reaper while wrapping up his residency at a San Francisco-area hospital.
Well-versed in the world of medicine and the underworld of organized crime, Bazell wields his mastery in their skillful juxtaposition. His sparse narrative bludgeons you with carnal dissections of ruthless beatings then nurses you back to health with drip-dry humor, dirty sex scenes and moments of sincere compassion. Bazell's exquisitely gritty storytelling creates a character-rich realm in which even depictions of shocking violence exude elegance. A steady stream of interesting and esoteric footnotes drops knowledge on readers as the plot gains momentum.
Josh Bazell will read from and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 6, at Mysterious Galaxy Books, 7051 Clairemont Mesa Blvd. mysteriousgalaxy.booksense.com, www.beatthereaper.com.