Sunday, February 08, 2009

Book: Beat the Reaper, by Josh Bazell (2009)

Here’s how good this debut novel is. I am willing to ignore the fact that it was written by a doctor completing his residency. Who do these Type A types think they are?

Peter Brown is already having a lousy day at Manhattan’s worst hospital when a dying patient identifies him as Pietro “The Bearclaw” Brnwa, a notorious Mafia hit man who escaped into witness protection. The book alternates between Peter’s efforts to prevent his old acquaintance from ratting him out, and Pietro’s journey to stone killer.

Reaper is a perfectly turned comic noir. Too many recent entries in the genre start at over-the-top and proceed from there. Bazell smartly grounds the action in the reality of the hospital setting and lets it dictate the pace. He’s also genuinely funny, studding the book with sharp throwaway lines. Like Peter telling the hopeful Mob patient that ‘you have a chance’ is “surgeon talk for ‘I need a slightly longer Chris-Craft.’” Or the observation that the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual “seeks to sort out the vagaries of psychiatric malfunction to the point where you can bill for them.” There are a few plot holes I had to work to overlook – Pietro Brnwa to Peter Brown? WITSEC relocating him from New York to ... New York? – and I gleefully overlooked them. That’s another sign of how good the book is.

Upcoming: Noir City

Consider this reminder the bulldog edition. Noir City rolls off the presses and into Seattle starting this Friday. This year’s timely theme, in case you haven’t guessed, is newspaper noir.

Seven nights of double-bills for only ten bucks a pop. Features paired with authentic B-movies in an experience that host and programmer Eddie Muller says is as close as you’ll get to actually going to the movies in 1948.

I don’t expect Seattle to match up to San Francisco and its ability to sell out the Castro Theater night after night. But the Northwest can represent, dammit. If you’re reading this and you’re anywhere near the Emerald City, come on out. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.