Thursday, January 21, 2010

We can be like they are

Beat the Reaper is written by Josh Bazell, one of those hyper-capable people that might irritate you if they didn't do things so well. While he was in medical school, he came up with an idea for a comic novel about a doctor who is also an anti-healer, a hitman. I guess it helps that he was an English major in college.

Anyway, the book is great fun. We see former hitman Pietro Brnwa, now Dr Peter Brown in the witness protection program, go through his day as an intern in a run down Manhattan hospital. His days are rough enough, but get worse when one of his former colleagues from the Life surfaces and lets his enemies know where he is. Now he has to dodge assassination while saving lives in the hospital.

The book alternates between Peter's life in the hospital and Pietro's life as a hitman. At first, I thought we had some of the dread Killer with a Heart of Gold* here, and to be honest, it is still hard to believe that someone who takes money for murder is going to turn out to be a peachy guy who risks his life to prevent an unnecessary amputation. I accepted it here, because the writing is flashy and hilarious and because there is a life changing event for Pietro that arises from his life of crime.

There is so much to enjoy here, including all sorts of little nuggets about medicine. At the end Bazell puts in a disclaimer that the whole book is fiction, but I like to think there are some fun facts to be enjoyed.

*An example of a book that is killed by the Killer with a Heart of Gold is the Electric Church. Here again we have a supposedly hardened killer, who keeps claiming life is too hard to go easy on people, but who constantly finds reasons to do the ethical thing. Sorry, don't buy it.


Citizen Reader said...

I really enjoyed this book, but I couldn't have told you why. It was just something completely different, which I sometimes appreciate.

I wasn't bothered by the take lives/save lives dichotomy. I have a very poor attitude toward doctors and surgeons, and tend to think most of them are doing it for their God Complex as for their desire to help actual people. So I was more than ready to believe a hitman could also be a doctor!

Tripp said...

I wasn't totally clear on what I meant about the good and evil there. I can see people being both good and evil. I have a harder time believing someone whose moral calculus includes getting paid to kill, also includes risking one's live to prevent an amputation.


CR, what did you think about the revelation about his grandparents back story? What was it there for? To show that much is not what it seems? Was all that venting against the Poles in Poland related?

Citizen Reader said...

This is totally embarrassing, but I don't remember anything about his grandparents' back story, or really even how the book ended. Isn't that terrible?

I tend to do that with fiction--I remember broad dislikes and likes, with some plot or character details, but not many. Either I've trained it to or my mind just naturally holds on to nonfiction details much more easily.

I'll ask a friend of mine who liked Beat the Reaper what she thought about your question.

Tripp said...

Oh I get that. I recall just because I have read it more recently. I am the same way about fiction.