Saturday, September 19, 2009

Code Yellow! Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell + giveaway

With its paperback release on September 14, I'm excited to spotlight Beat The Reaper by Josh Bazell. Part mobster, part medical thriller. It's clearly a bad time to check in to this Manhattan hospital. . .

What it's about, courtesy of the publisher:

Dr. Peter Brown is an intern at Manhattan's worst hospital, with a talent for medicine, a shift from hell, and a past he'd prefer to keep hidden. Whether it's a blocked circumflex artery or a plan to land a massive malpractice suit, he knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men.

Pietro "Bearclaw" Brnwna is a hitman for the mob, with a genius for violence, a well-earned fear of sharks, and an overly close relationship with the Federal Witness Relocation Program. More likely to leave a trail of dead gangsters than a molecule of evidence, he's the last person you want to see in your hospital room.

Nicholas LoBrutto, aka Eddy Squillante, is Dr. Brown's new patient, with three months to live and a very strange idea: that Peter Brown and Pietro Brnwa might-just might-be the same person ...

Now, with the mob, the government, and death itself descending on the hospital, Peter has to buy time and do whatever it takes to keep his patients, himself, and his last shot at redemption alive. To get through the next eight hours-and somehow beat the reaper.

Spattered in adrenaline-fueled action and bone-saw-sharp dialogue, BEAT THE REAPER is a debut thriller so utterly original you won't be able to guess what happens next, and so shockingly entertaining you won't be able to put it down.

Doesn't it sound good? Apparently quite a lot of people thought so as well. The movie of Beat The Reaper is in production with Leonardo DiCaprio co-producing and starring in it! If you'd like to win a copy of the book, keep reading! Or listen to this great interview with Josh Bazell.

The author, Josh Bazell, has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Brown University and an M.D. from Columbia University and is currently a medical resident at University of California, San Fransisco. He's also working on his second novel.Read an excerpt, learn more about Beat The Reaper and Josh Bazell at

The publishers have given special attention to reading groups for this book, doesn't it seem like the sort of book that would be fun to discuss? Here's a list of discussion questions for your local reading group, courtesy of Hatchette Book Group:

1. There are many dramatically charged scenes in Beat the Reaper, but the story is also broadly humorous. What was the funniest moment in the novel for you, and why?

2. Near the end of the novel Pietro Brnwa/Peter Brown’s mentor Prof. Marmoset tells him, “Any time you can tell the difference between something you can do something about and something you can’t, you should thank God. Particularly if it turns out to be something you can’t” (page 304). How effectively does Pietro/Peter “tell the difference” throughout the novel? What do you think he’s learned by the story’s conclusion?

3. “As any other American child would, I picked Batman and Charles Bronson in Death Wish as role models” (page 26). In what ways is Pietro’s early life a typical (or atypical) American childhood? Discuss his teenage induction into crime as a way of life.

4. The footnotes that the author uses throughout Beat the Reaper are at times informative, at times humorous, often both. Identify your favorite footnote and explain what you like about it.

5. Early in the novel Dr. Peter Brown observes that “humans hate being mentally strong and physically weak” (page 28). Do you agree? By the story’s end, is it Pietro/Peter’s mental or physical strength that has served him best?

6. Who was your favorite character in Beat the Reaper: Pietro Brnwa/Peter Brown? Skinflick? David Locano? Magdalena? Eddy Squillante? Did you find that your favorite had changed by the end of the novel?

7. Why did Pietro’s trip to Poland in 1994 (chapter 8) become a significant turning point in his life? What surprising discovery about his grandparents did Pietro make on that trip? What did he learn about himself?

8. When Pietro meets Magdalena’s parents for the first time, her father tells him, “You appear to have nothing in common with my daughter at all” (page 173), and yet in many ways Pietro and Magdalena seem a perfect couple. Why do you think they are so well suited to each other?

9. Discuss the character of Skinflick. Ultimately, how does Skinflick influence Pietro Brnwa’s transformation into Peter Brown? How does Magdalena?

10. Beat the Reaper is filled with examples of doctors (and other members of the medical establishment) behaving badly. Name a few such episodes. How unlikely or outrageous do these episodes seem to you? Could there be a kernel of truth in any of them?

11. As a young hit man, Pietro Brnwa took pains to make sure that his victims were “killers whose deaths would improve the world” (page 108). Do you think murder is ever justified? Reconcile your answer with Pietro’s observation that “murdering someone is bad for you. It murders something in yourself, and has all kinds of other consequences you can’t possibly foresee” (page 59).

12. What do you think the future holds for Dr. Peter Brown? Do you think he will quit crime for good, or will he leave medicine and return to his old habits? What would you like to see happen?

Thanks to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group, five lucky readers will each win a copy of Beat The Reaper!


To enter, please share a story about an awful hospital experience (your own or someone else's or imagined). If you haven't got a hospital horror story to share, tell us about a particularly competent and helpful doctor that you've had lately.

Please include your email address, so that I can contact you if you win. No email address and answer, no entry. The contest is limited to US and Canada only. No P.O. boxes. The contest ends at noon on October 31, 2009.

Thank you so much to Valerie and Hatchette Book Group for sponsoring this giveaway!


  1. Well, I work in a hospital so I have some doozy stories I could tell you. A couple that particularly stick out in my mind:
    1) a patient died on the night shift while on constant care and no one noticed until the next day and I believe they even charted that the patient had normal vital signs
    2) our hospital was in a VRE breakout so had isolation rooms in effect and specific nursing staff assigned to "dirty" rooms so as to avoid contaminating other patients. My friend and I went out for lunch and looked up to see one of the "dirty" nurses at the counter, IN HER SCRUBS, ordering lunch.

    melacan at hotmail dot com

  2. This books sounds great! I don't have any real bad hospital stories myself. But once I was in the emergency room of my cities downtown hospital on a Friday night. As you can guess, it was nuts. They actually have rooms you can lock to keep dangerous patients in. The night I was there 3 of the 5 rooms were being used. And lots of police. I felt like I was in an episode of COPS. You don't want to be in emergency on a Friday night.

  3. Well, I have worked in a hospital for 18 years and cannot by law pass on any stories.
    I am a follower.

    cenya2 at hotmail dot com

  4. I had hurt my foot once (a huge 75+ lb object had been dropped on it) and I had a trauma cyst form. I was convinced it was fractured (and now, 7 years later, when it still acts up, I am still convinced), but the doctor, when I told him what had happened, grabs my foot in both hands and says "Does this hurt?" And he bend my foot in both hands like he's cracking a branch! That would have hurt regardless, but when I tell you I think my foot is BROKEN!!! Sadistic little man.


  5. When I was little I had a hernia. Which is not good but fixable. The problem was the doctors were not able to figure out what was wrong for a couple of years and for a while there were telling my parents I had lukemia.


  6. I didn't have a doctor available to deliver my second baby. The nurses delivered her as there was no doctor on the maternity floor! They had to phone one to come and deliver the afterbirth. Then she didn't even do that properly and I ended up needing surgery a few days later.

    simplystacieblog at gmail dot com

  7. Directly after gall bladder surgery, I asked for a bed pan. The nurse told me that I had to get up or have a shot of Demerol. I told her that I really didn't want the drug, but couldn't yet get up due to pain. She insisted, no drug, no bed pan. And added, that if I went in the bed, she'd make me lay in it, and wouldn't change the sheets. I was coerced into a shot that I didn't want.


  8. I could tell you stories... A few years ago I had to have a spinal tap and it was a teaching hospital. The student doctor botched my tap and the incision he made did not close, not to mention I bled all over the place. My CSF fluid continued to leak out of brain and spain so that my brain does not have a good cushion and I can still feel my brain hit my skull inside. It will take 5 years for me to recover.

    Aliya D.

  9. I've had a handful of horrid docs.I've recently had one where he was very patient with my questions, which is rare.

    cindyc725 at gmail dot com

  10. During my worst hospital expirience involved being assigned to a room with a male patient.


  11. My friend was pregnant and not feeling well so she went to the hospital to find out what was wrong and the next time I saw her she had bruises on her arms (both of them) extending from her elbow almost half way to her shoulder and half way down her forearm from all the poking with needles she had to go through before they got the blood they needed. She looked like she had been beaten. And they still couldn’t figure out what was wrong.


  12. I ended up in the hospital when i was in my early thirties because I was having crippling stomach pains. It ended up being kidney stones and I was admitted to the hospital. It was a nurses strike and skeleton staff on because of it. I think the three days I was there I only received one meal, they totally forgot about if I did not exist. It was horrible

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  13. This looks like a great read. My worst hospital story is that a few years ago we had to take my,then,87 year old mom in for a blood infection. She spent two days on a gurney in the waiting room waiting for a bed to be available.

  14. Competent and helpful doctor? Oh now that's a laugh. I live in Va Beach and I cant find a doctor who will help me with all my problems.
    As for awful hospital experiences I would say when I had breast cancer in '98 or back in the 80's when my lung kept collapsing and I had chest tubes. Not pleasant.

    Mel K.
    Meljprincess AT aol DOT com

  15. I was having corrective surgery on my foot a few years back. They had to break my big toe, cut out a piece of the bone and screw it back together. Thankfully I would be knocked out for this procedure. Unfortunately, the anesthesia wore off and I woke up in time to hear the bone saw cutting through my toe. I wasn't quite awake enough to be able to speak so I had to shake my head around until they noticed and put me under again.

    Amy Smith

  16. This was about 4 years ago, in a different country but true. My ex of more than 2 years managed to hide the fact that we weren't living together and convinced hospital personnel that I was severely depressed and refused to take medication. I was only told that if I wanted to get to see my daughter again I would agree to ECT as they were concerned. It was only after 6 treatments that they realized he didn't even live with my daughter and I - and yes, we were in a custody battle. 'Happy' ending - we finally got the help we needed (legal) to leave that country and move back to Canada. In case you were wondering - it's a Western Developed Country.

  17. About a year ago, my son had a very high fever that wouldn't go down. I was scared because he was so hot...he ended up having a seizure because it was so high. The only think is, it wasn't one of those full blown shaking seizures. It was what they call a fibrul (spelling??) seizure and an absent seizure. I was freaking out and called my mom to come take me to the hospital with him. Even though she only worked next door, it didn't seem like she was getting there fast enough. I ran down the back stairs barefoot and lost my footing with the baby in my arms. I was able to catch myself, but not before crushing my left foot. The ambulance was called. My mom, son, and I rode together in the ambulance to the hospital. Me trying to be a good mom and not give my son an overdose of medicine was not giving my son enough medicine to bring down the fever...that is why he had the seizure. And I did break my foot. The nurses and doctors were was just an awful day in general.
    Thanks for the chance to win the book! It looks like a good read.

  18. I had surgery last year and the bed was so uncomfortable that I went home with the worst aching back I've ever had. I also went home with a UTI and an awful rash "down there" as they left the cathater (spelling?) in too long. Horrors!

  19. How ironic that I am in the hospital right now, as we speak! What a coincidence!! I've had several lousy experiences in the 3 days I have been here. Somehow, even after I beg for a private room, I don't always get one. Most of the time I end up with an old lady who has dementia and is hard of hearing. This means that not only does she not hear what is being said to her by the staff, they have to explain things OVER and OVER and OVER in a really LOUD voice. This really gets old fast what it goes on 24 hours a day--especially at 3 AM!! Thank goodness I am now in a room by myself so hopefully I'll get some sleep tonight.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

  20. My family doctor is a very caring and gentle human being. My family has been attended by him for over 30 years.

  21. This is a hospital horror story that happened a long time ago...but I still creep out when I remember it.
    I managed to have my first broken bone (leg) at 18 yrs. and was put in the hospital. Back then they kept you for a week instead of overnight, if even that. Anyway, I had a cast on my left leg up to my knee and a doctor I'd not see before came into my room which I was sharing with another college girl and began to examine me as if I were pregnant (in light of a better description). Since I was a modest and shy young girl at that time, I was extremely embarrassed and confused. Finally he said, "Oh, I see you have a broken leg, too". Then all of a sudden I could see this 'Oh My God' look on his face and he quickly turned and hurried out of the room. Needless to say, my mom had me moved up to the children's area of the hospital the next day. It was a very humiliating experience. However, probably not as bad as the tongue lashing the hospital received from my mother.

  22. A few years back I heard of a man who needed a leg amputation due to complications of severe diabetes. The surgeons made a huge mistake and removed the wrong leg. After the sugeons realized their mistake, the other (correct)leg was amputated. The patient sued for $5 million, but the judge threw out the case. The judge said he didn't have a leg to stand on.........


  23. While in the hospital after having my second child, I was supposed to be kept in recovery and not shifted to my room until the next day. Unfortunately, I was moved late that evening. It was probably after 10 p.m. I had not eaten since lunch and I was starving. The nurse on the receiving floor cautioned me to be quiet and ignored that I hadn't eaten. (I hadn't really been noisy--I was just talking.) She upset me so much that I wanted to leave the hospital that night. My husband talked me out of it. The next day I made a complaint about being moved that late and about the nurse.

  24. When I was 7 months pregnant with my 4th (which is my youngest) child, the placenta ruptured and I hemorrhaged in the middle of the night. After a wild ride to the hospital with my husband, we got there and they had not been informed by the doctor's answering service that my husband called that we were on our way. So, the hospital was not prepared and the doctor had not been told the seriousness of it by his answering service so he had gone back to sleep. The hospital's phone system was on the blink too so they had trouble reaching the doctor. So, it was a scary time. I ended up in ICU for 5 days and our baby was transferred to a children's hospital. Fortunately, for me and my daughter, it turned out OK and we recently celebrated her 23rd birthday.


  25. My bad experience was a couple of years ago, I couldn't get the dam... nurse to listen to me about the pain I was in. She said it was just a panic attack!!! I've had panic attacks, they don't hurt
    copperllama at yahoo dot com

  26. My horrible hospital experience happened a few years ago when I was working with individuals that had developmental disabilities. One of my clients had to be taken to ER because she suffered from a mild seizure. The waiting room was incredibly busy and the nurses were taking forever to put my client in a room or even check her vitals. Well she ended up having another,more intense seizure in the waiting room of the hospital. I was so upset with the hospital staff that day for not putting her in a room and assisting us sooner. But thank goodness that seizure got their attention and we were rushed to a room.

  27. When my father first broke his hip, the doctor delayed surgery for days. This left him hallucinating with pain - this experience changed him from a hardworking 92 year old man to someone frail and often ill.

    I still feel angry at that doctor

    adochains at

  28. I revently had to be referred to a doctor to get a new brace for my leg, and the office visit went very well. The doctor explained to ne his thoughts on what steps we should take before I got the brace.

    I left his office thinking Wow!

  29. There was a video footage I saw online a few years ago about a patient in the operating room (OR) undergoing surgical removal of a foreign body (soda can) in his rectum. When the foreign body was finally taken out, you could see and hear people laughing inside the OR . The patient did not know that the procedure was being videotaped by a member of the OR staff.He only learned about it afterwards when it was all over the internet.