It was love at first footnote. By the end of the first chapter, I could tell Beat The Reaper was a unique book.
Two names, two stories, two lives. It followed the story of Pietro Brwna (or Peter Brown) through two entwining stories. Pietro fell into his life as a mafia hitman after exacting revenge om his grandparents’ murderers. This story of Pietro’s mafia past, written in a memoir-esque style, takes the form of flashbacks, woven together with the main plot. Peter Brown is Pietro’s new life: working as a doctor and hiding from the mafia… Until one of his patients recognises him and threatens to blow his cover.
The two entwining stories are accompanied by witty, clever or even factual footnotes – my favourite part of the book. Early on in reading, I described this book as part-non-fiction. It’s not an entirely accurate description, but there was fascinating information on mafia history, Nazi Germany and medicine. It might not be true but it’s a close neighbour that resembles the truth and interesting enough to fool me.
The present-tense, first-person narration was an unconventional choice, but it worked. More than understanding what Pietro was thinking, I was inside his head. I read sometimes through the grogginess of a Moxfane-powered mind, and sometimes the sharp eyes of a professional killer.
Peter himself was an interesting character, not necessarily likeable, but worthy of the book. He viewed women as sexual objects and often found himself in the most unlikely (and frankly implausible) sexual situations. But he had a very string moral stand on murder: he would only kill really bad guys (or occasionally to save his own life). I can’t say that after reading the book I know Peter – he’s a complicated person and his actions constantly surprised me – but that added to the thrill of reading.
In the first half, the book is packed with clever one-liners but is not without the odd gruesome image. Getting into the second half, the gruesome-funny ratio starts to rise. A warning: do not read this book if you have a weak stomach. I’m jolted, though not greatly disturbed by violence or blood imagery, but this book describes many things – pain, injury, blood, disease – in excruciating detail. I tolerated the entire book until the ending. I won’t describe it in the interests of spoilers but it is the most disturbing injury I have ever read, written with such detail that I had to stop for a second to disconnect myself from the story. I suppose that’s the burden of being connected with the narrator’s mind.
Apart from the ending, I found the book exciting, funny and thoroughly enjoyable. I looked forward to being able to pick it up and found it hard to put down. Although not for the squeamish, the thrilling story was worth the shocking ending. I’m not put off. In fact, I look forward to reading the next in the series.