Another book review that disappeared. I really love the tagline for this review: "Like Scrubs on crack."
Beat the Reaper
by Josh Bazell
Little, Brown, and Company, 2009
ISBN 0316032220; $9.99
Every time I look at this book, I think of the song by Blue Öyster Cult, "The Reaper". This really has nothing to do with the book, but I think it nonetheless. I'm not normally a fan of mafia books, for the reason that mafiosi are so evil that reading about them depresses me. I did like this book, but I was always struggling against the horror that any semi-realistic portrayal of gangster life elicts.
My favorite part of the book is the random medical facts scattered throughout the book, either in the body or in cute little footnotes. Lest anyone think that the medical mayhem of Manhattan Catholic is entirely fictional, I was recounting to my Mother the episode near the beginning of the book where Dr. Peter Brown comes in for rounds and discovers one of this patients is dead, despite the notation on the chart that claims the patient's temperature is 98.6º with blood pressure 120/80 mmHg. My Mom blurted out, "ooh, that happened to me!" My Mother has a great deal of experience as a nurse, and this exact incident happened to her, with the change that it was the aide who did it to the nurse instead of the nurse to the doctor.
I have worked in hospitals myself, and currently am a designer of medical devices, so everything about Manhattan Catholic rang true, even though that much misery is not usually concentrated in one place. I can indeed confirm the typical surgeon's potty mouth. I've never heard such astounding things as you can hear in an operating room. I also appreciate Dr. Brown's gallows humor. When you work with death, you need something to help you stay sane. You can't go and cry in your beer every time something goes wrong. The most common method is black humor to provide emotional distance. Less common is sanctification, as practiced by chaplains and religious. I never hear gallows humor out of Sr. Elizabeth. Of course, maybe she just isn't sharing.
The denoument of the book reminded of the Hitman series by Eidos. Anyone who has played through Hitman: Blood Money will find some similarities. Not huge ones, just reminiscent. The ending was imaginative. Perhaps I should say, strains credulity, but I'm not sure I could do it better. The medical facts do at least make it possible, if not plausible. If you enjoy gangster books, go for this one. If you want to know what hospitals are really like, read this too. No hospital is this bad, but they definitely share a family resemblance. This book is like Scrubs on crack.