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Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell

Release Date: 5th Feb 2009
Publisher: William Heinemann
ISBN: 978 04340 1923 6
RRP: 12.99

Average Customer Rating: 
(0.0 based on 0 ratings)

For the sheer wierdness of its ending, if nothing else...

A striking cross between Scarface and Apocalypse Now (minus the war scenario), Beat the Reaper is a graphic portrayal of a young man's descent into Mafia hit man status, whilst somehow still managing to maintain a semblance of conscience - although, not all that good a one, to be fair.

Peter Brown aka Bearclaw is in the Witness Protection Programme after selling out his erstwhile surrogate father figure, who just so happened to be a Mob lawyer. The rationale behind this treachery is told in fragmented flashbacks to Peter (or Pietro's) past, where he goes from lost teenager after the brutal slaying of his grandparents, to hardened and talented hit man for the father of his school chum affectionately known as Skinflick. If it wasn't for falling in love and then a subsequent betrayal by this so-called chum of his, perhaps Peter wouldn't have turned. But who knows? Peter is a decidedly complex individual and utterly ruthless if it comes down to it.

Reinvented as a doctor, Peter's past inevitably catches up with him when a former associate ends up in his hospital with a terminal illness. Hapless Peter is caught out when this generous patient decides to intertwine his fate with Peter's - by ensuring that on his death, Peter's whereabouts will be broadcast to those who want to find him - and kill him, of course. How nice a parting shot is that?

Bazell writes it rough, dredging up all the filth and underhandedness one could possibly imagine but not usually have the guts to verbalise, let alone write down in black and white. Think plenty of drugs, lots of getting your hands bloody and doing the dirty with your cousin. Sordid, unscrupulous and with a real devotion to defining some of the obscure and fancy jargon that is splayed across the storyline like a prostituted intellect - the constant use of footnotes elaborating a turn of phrase, medical term or some other unlikely side point is delivered with gusto and surprising wit (but can get a little annoying, and one hopes he doesn't always write like this). It is Bazell's keen interest in divulging how one can turn the fibula into a crude but effective weapon and such like that make Beat the Reaper stand out. It's all macho nonsense, but those of a certain disposition will lap this up like mother's milk.

Maybe not quite blown away so much as having my jaw drop to the floor on several occasions and having to endure the snap as it reconnected with the rest of my face. Beat the Reaper is like having a bucket of ice cold water poured over you - shocking, invigorating and certain to get your attention - but leaving you shivering and feeling a bit queasy after the initial assault on your senses is over.

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