Audiobook Review: Beat the Reaper by Josh Brazell

15 09 2011

Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

Read by Robert Petkoff

Hachette Audio

Length: 6 Hrs 48 Mins

Genre: Thriller

Quick Thoughts: A quick paced, often brutal revenge thriller full of dark humor and over the top violence. Narrator Robert Petkoff perfectly captures the pace of the novel.

Grade: B+

I get a lot of book recommendations. From family, friends, fellow bloggers, and anyone else who realizes my addiction to books. Often, as soon as I say, I like so and so’s books, I get a list of other authors I should try out. Sometimes they are quite bizarre, "Oh, you like Stephen King… well, you should really check out James Patterson." Others are often pretentious, "Oh, you read science fiction… you should really be reading non-fiction or [Insert Literary Author Here.]" Now, I can be a stubborn person. I like to discover books. So, sometimes, when I get suggestions, I get my collar turned up, and think, "Well, maybe after all the books, I discovered while drunk googling late at night." Yet, occasionally, a recommendation will eventually break through this thick skull of mine, especially if it comes from a lot of people I respect. One of the most repeatedly recommended books to me has been Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, particularly the audiobook version of the novel. Beat the Reaper is the story of Peter Brown, a former mob hitman who becomes a doctor while under Witness Protection. While working one day, a former associate with a terminal disease recognizes him and makes him an offer, "Keep me alive, or I will let the mob know where you are." Not really a good deal, in my opinion.

I was truly amazed at how much Bazell fit into this relatively short production. Beat the Reaper moves at a frenetic pace, jumping back and forth between Peter’s past, and his current crazy day working in a hospital. This book has so many subplots, including Peter’s life changing romance, his desire to avenge his grandparent’s murders, a look into his family’s history in Nazi controlled Poland, his ascension to mob hitman, and just how things turned bad, all this interposed between examining patients with conditions stranger than you would find during your average House episode. Yet, Bazell manages to bring it all together into a compelling, though at times over the top story.  I was completely enthralled with this story, ignoring those trying to interact with me, out of fear I may miss some crucial element. What I liked most was the well honed dark humor that pervaded this story. While at times the novel could become ultra-violent, or melodramatic, it was always tempered with humor. Peter Brown was not really a likeable character, in fact, he could be quite abhorrent, yet for some reason, you found yourself rooting for him. Beat the Reaper is definitely not for the squeamish, but if you’re looking for a fast paced thriller with a lot of humor, take my recommendation and check it out. 

Robert Petkoff narrates Beat the Reaper like a bullet. His quick clipped pace comes at you so fast at times you can’t help but feel yourself barely holding on for the ride. Petkoff pacing is utter perfection, moving the action along so quick that you almost forget how over the top it is at times. Yet, Petkoff also captures Brown’s sleep deprived, drug addled present well, slowing the pace, and creating this sense of distance from the events flowing around him.  For a narrator to handle both sides of a story so well was truly a joy to listen to. Now, there has been a lot made about the music in this audiobook. Some people hated it, finding it distracting. Personally, it didn’t bother me that much. I really don’t think it added much to the production. It sort of reminded me of the mood music during a film, where you basically know that you’re supposed to be scared because the music has turned creepy. Luckily, the music wasn’t as all pervasive as that, but when it did come, I was like, "Ok, someone is about to get their ass kicked." This quick production is the perfect change of pace for listeners who have just come off some grand, long epic tale, and are looking for a quick, violent tale to hold them over until their next literary opus.

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