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First Page Of: Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell

This week, we’re looking at just-released novel from Josh Bazell, Beat the Reaper, to review judging only from what we think of the first page. We cheated a bit, because we know that Leonardo DiCaprio is producing and slated to star in the movie version of it, but that’s all we know beyond the title and the first few words. After the jump, the text of the first page and our thoughts on whether or not we’d keep reading.

So I’m on my way to work and I stop to watch a pigeon fight a rat in the snow, and some fuckhead tries to mug me! Naturally there’s a gun. He comes up behind me and sticks it into the base of my skull. It’s cold, and it actually feels sort of good, in an acupressure kind of way. “Take it easy, Doc,” he says. Which explains that, at least. Even at five in the morning, I’m not the kind of guy you mug. I look like an Easter Island sculpture of a longshoreman. But the fuckhead can see the blue scrub pants under my overcoat, and the ventilated green plastic clogs, so he thinks I’ve got drugs and money on me. And maybe that

We’re not sure how we’re supposed to be objective about this whole “only the first page” review thing when the mere use of “fuckhead”–twice–makes us want to keep reading all on its own. But that’s not all–here we have a protagonist providing his filthy, strange first-person narration, and the fact that he finds the feel of a gun on the back of his neck good is damn intriguing. Also, pigeons fight rats?

It’s hard to contain the impulse to find out what happens in the second half of an interesting story–we always feel cheated after reading the previews of McSweeneys stories in their seasonal mailers. But do we then actually finish the story when it is published? Um. That reminds us–we should probably renew our long-expired subscription.

But back to Beat the Reaper. The mugging could turn out to be an insignificant plot point, or the central focus of a larger story–either way, not that compelling right away, but it has promise. Maybe we wouldn’t read it ourselves, but judging from the character the imagery, instead recommend it to a friend interested in well-written thrillers? Or maybe just someone who has a thing for doctor/asshole protagonists?