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A Pick From Pearl

Beat the Reaper, a first novel by Josh Bazell, is funny, gross, violent, and profane (in almost equal measure). And it has footnotes (which I loved). If you're not bothered by the violence and can overlook what some call--always with quotation marks--"language," you'll find a novel--in addition to all those other qualities--that is also touching and a little bit sad. But don't read it unless you have a strong stomach. And don't start it late in the afternoon (as I unfortunately did), because you won't be able to put it down until you finish it, which doesn't augur well for a productive work experience the next day. One way of describing the plot is to think of it as House meets Dexter in the world of The Godfather. At one point in the recent past, Peter Brown, born Pietro Brnwa, a young man with a checkered past, turned state's evidence against his former friends, and was sent to college and med school as part of the Witness Protection Program. Now he's a resident at a hospital in Manhattan. And he's having a really, really bad day. He discovers that one of his patients is a former, shall we say, colleague (now dying under an assumed name), who threatens to make Peter's whereabouts known to all and sundry. That all and sundry would include his former best friend, Skinflick, who Peter thought he'd disposed of back in the good old days when Peter was nicknamed "The Bearclaw" by that old gang of his. Alas, no--Skinflick actually survived being thrown from an upper floor of an apartment building; he's now known as Skingraft, and he's got revenge on his mind. Great fun, rather gruesome (Jaws, anyone?) and compulsively readable.