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Review – Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

beat the reaper

Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell
310 pages
Published January 7, 2009

I wasn’t going to read Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, despite the fact that everyone seemed to love it, and it almost seemed right up my alley. But then I found out that Josh was coming to my local independent bookstore, and since my friend Jessica really liked the book, I thought I’d read it and we could go see him together! And talk about his book! And generally be book nerds!

So the book opens with a scene that let’s you know Dr. Peter Brown is a bad ass. And then you find out that he IS a bad ass because he worked for the mafia killing people, back before he was saving lives. Before he was in the Witness Protection Program, he was Pietro Brnwa, who basically just wanted a family and got involved with the WRONG FAMILY (you know the family I’m talking about…the MAFIA FAMILY).

Beat the Reaper goes back and forth between present day and history, getting you up to speed as to why Peter is on the lam, how he ended up being a hit man, why he’s a doctor now and why it’s so terrible if his cover gets blown.

The first thing you’ll notice when you read the book is that there’s footnotes. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love footnotes. I get giddy when I see them. But you only ever see them on something serious, so you see them in your fiction book and wonder if you should also check in the back for a bibliography (as if anyone remembers how to do those). Fear not! These footnotes are like the funny asides your hilarious friend mentions when he’s telling a story. Par example:

(In the main text, he says, “Elisabeth Kübler-Ross at one point said that our comprehension of death passes through five distinct stages — denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.” Now to the footnote.)

I say “at one point” because this progression is what we think about when we think about Kübler-Ross. But what we avoid thinking about when we think about Kübler-Ross is how she later changed her mind and decided we’ll all be reincarnated. I wish I was shitting you.*

That reminds me: if you’re offended by curse words or graphic violence, this book isn’t for you. But dang if this isn’t one of the more refreshing books I’ve read in a long time. I don’t even know if I could classify this book. It’s not a mystery, not really. It’s just…a really great story.

Josh Bazell’s writing style is so conversational that I could have been sitting down chatting with a friend (we all know how much I love that). AND, the narrator is smart! With quirky little asides that just make you go, Huh! Interesting! Yes, these are the same asides as the footnotes, but really, the greatness beared repeating.

And you know what? I’m really glad I read this book. Because dang if the first question out of my mouth isn’t going to be, “How the #%$@ did you think up (this one scene that if I told you would spoil the book)?!” (Side note: I didn’t end up getting to see the author. Something came up, and dang if my life did not get the message that I have IMPORTANT AUTHOR APPEARANCES TO ATTEND.)

Rating: 89 out of 100 (I feel the need to point out here that anywhere in the 80s is 4 stars. So while it fell short of me wanting to have its babies, it didn’t fall short of me having a frolicking good time.)

*Re-reading this, I see that perchance I didn’t pick the most stellar footnote, but I promise you, this footnote slayed me when I read it.

Beat the Reaper website

Other reviews:

Both Eyes Book Blog

She is Too Fond of Books

an adventure in reading

Booking Mama

At Home With Books

Bermudaonion’s Weblog

Book source: I got this book from the library.

And one more thing? If you click on one of the Beat the Reaper links and buy something from Amazon, I’ll make a commission! Mwahahahaha!! Maybe with the pennies I make I’ll be able to call someone who cares.

You can thank the FTC for this disclosure!

| Tags: , 28 comments »

28 Responses to “Review – Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell”

  1. Julie P.

    It is hard to define a specific genre for this book. I think that might be one of the reason I enjoyed it so much — it was something different!


  2. Rebecca @ The Book Lady's Blog

    Bob and I listened to this on audio during our road trip this summer and really enjoyed it. I had no idea there were footnotes! As an audio book to keep us entertained, it was more than sufficient, but I suspect I wouldn’t have liked it as much if I’d read it. Hope you and Jessica have a great time at his talk…can’t wait to hear about it.


  3. Jenn

    I loved your review! It definitely sounds like my kind of book. And I’m kinda glad you don’t want to have it’s babies…papercuts sting, and I can only imagine! ouch!


  4. Steph

    I saw this book the last time I was in a bookstore and thought it sounded familiar but couldn’t think of why… and then I picked it up and read the back cover, and decided that maybe it wasn’t really for me. But now your review has me thinking otherwise, because even though the premise still doesn’t make me itch to read it, it does sound like it’s a crazy good read, and who doesn’t love one of those? I will flag it for a future library loan!


  5. Melanie

    This book has such an ugly cover that I didn’t buy a copy for our library. Now I’m wishing I had. I love books with foot notes. Might need to buy myself a copy.


  6. nomadreader

    I loved this book too! I thought the footnotes were fantastic and hilarious. I would love to meet Josh Bazell. After I read it, my fiance read it, and we agreed you almost want to hate someone who is a doctor and a fantastic writer, but he’s just too cool to hate.


  7. Jen Forbus

    Your struggle to define the genre is why I prefer the term “crime fiction.” A lot of what I read wouldn’t be called “mystery” because the reader knows the “who done it” – that’s a general given for many thrillers. The question is more about how the protagonist goes about his/her journey. The common element, however, is always the crime. And of course I love it!! 🙂

    This book has been on my TBR list for awhile now. Lord only knows when I’ll get to it, but I do still want to get to it!


  8. Heather

    I wasn’t interested in this book until reading your review… how do you always do this to me, Trish?! 😉


  9. raych

    I THRILL to footnotes. I will read this biznis.


  10. Kathy

    I really enjoyed this book too, but I have to admit to reading that one particular scene through my fingers because I had my hand over my eyes.


  11. SuziQoregon

    Like Jen I’m beginning to like the description crime fiction. Many of the books I buy in the mystery section aren’t really mysteries. The Blade Runner by Marcus Sakey was a recent read of mine that was like that. I’ve seen reviews for this one off and on for a while now. More of them are making me want to read it than are making me want to pass on it.

    I love your description “it didn’t fall short of me having a frolicking good time.” Those are some of my favorite reads.


  12. Kathleen

    This sounds like a fun and unique read!


  13. Alyce

    I think you did a wonderful job reviewing this book! I agree about the footnotes – they were great. It definitely isn’t a book for those who are easily offended though.


  14. Jenn's Bookshelves

    You know..I’ve had this book for ages. You’ve inspired me to pick it up off my bookshelves, brush off the dust (ok not really, there is no dust in my home!) and read it!


  15. Stacy

    I almost picked this up at the library today. It was 50-50 and I walked away. Now I’m sad about that 🙁 Great review.


  16. Trisha

    Another footnote fan! Yay! I “get giddy” when I see them too.


  17. diane

    Except for the rough language getting old rather fast, I really like this book (especially the footnotes).


  18. S. Krishna

    I just bought this book a couple of weeks ago and am excited to read it!


  19. raidergirl3

    I know exactly the scene you wanted to ask him about!
    I loved this book and thought it was hilarious, and thrilling and rough and crazy.
    Crime fiction works, but it doesn’t give a picture of how funny the book can be, assuming your sense of humor matches the author’s. Maybe Humor-Thriller? Kind of like Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller.


  20. booklogged

    Looking forward to reading this book. It’s on the shelf I just need to get it in my hands. Didn’t realize there was going to be humor so that’s a pleasant surprise. Sorry you didn’t get to meet the author.


  21. Lisa

    Frolicking good time = must read. And I was going to skip this one. I probably should stop reading book blogs if I ever want to stop adding books to my tbr list. Even when I think I’m going to skip a book, I end up adding it!


  22. Elizabeth

    I got this as an ARC thinking I would like it and really didn’t. I don’t know why, because when I read other people’s reviews it sounds like such a great book! Maybe I was off-kilter those few days I read it. They’ve already got a publication date for the second book about Dr. Peter.


  23. Liz

    The author’s name is very familiar — I’m going to look him up in just a bit to see why. While the book sounds kind of like a hoot, I’m serious wondering if the footnotes would a) slow me down and b) irritate the heck out of me. It’s what made reading Shakespeare go so slowly! Now I grant you, with Shakespeare you needed them, to figure out what the heck is going on, given changes in language. But in reading for fun? I’ll have to see if the library has the book and see how annoying I would find the footnotes. In the meantime, I’m reading Love Tag by Peter Shianna, kind of a novel of self-discovery — and haven’t we all been on that journey? Blue collar kid makes good — but is kind of too ambitious for his own good! You have your issues with kids (in this case adoption adds still more issues) and the urge to stray. Ever dealt with an addicted child or a cutthroat individual in business or sports? You’ll enjoy it, as will others.


  24. Holley

    I love listened to this one in the car and LuRvEd it mightily!


  25. Jodie

    Why don’t more people use funny footnotes – seriously everyone has to write a religious thriller car chase mystery now a la Dan Brown but everyone doesn’t want to make a trend of using funny, fictional footnoes a la Terry Pratchett? The footnotes totally sold me on this book btw.


  26. Biblibio

    I think I’m mostly intrigued by the words “doctor” and “bad *ss” in the same sentence.


  27. Melissa- Shhh I'm Reading

    This book did have some foul language, but that has never bothered me. I loved the footnotes and thought this one was a great read!


  28. melanie

    I agree the book is nuts, in a good but please don’t be offended sort of way. It was a bit of a shock to my Puritan sensibilities but I recovered and though it was a fun read.


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