Josh Bazell's 'Wild Thing' gets woolly

The doctor-novelist unleashes another mind-blowing tale

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

In Josh Bazell's 2009 debut novel, "Beat the Reaper," Pietro Brnwa was an ex-hitman forced to dispatch old Mob demons while creating a new, respectable life for himself as Dr. Peter Brown. *

Problem was, his former friends and colleagues just couldn't let the past die until he did.

"Beat the Reaper" was a sick, funny thrill ride, and in Dr. Bazell's sequel, "Wild Thing," it's no less so, as this time "Bearclaw" Brnwa sports yet another alias, Lionel Azimuth. **

From the outset it's clear that Dr. Bazell, who holds a degree in literature from Brown and medicine from Columbia, has a fondness for footnotes. It's a device that doesn't always work, and in fact borders on wearying.***

By Josh Bazell
Reagan Arthur Books ($25.99).

In "Wild Thing," Pietro is toiling as a doctor on a cruise ship when an eccentric billionaire hires him to accompany a sexy **** paleontologist on a strange mission into the wilds of Minnesota lake country.

So, high-powered tourists from the worlds of finance, entertainment and politics start tracking down an elusive creature that might be an All-American version of the Loch Ness Monster.

This is where the story runs off the rails. A lake monster? Seriously?

Sadly, almost all of the characters in "Wild Thing," from the drug-dealing locals to a singing star to an Asian tech tycoon and even Violet, the paleontologist, just aren't as fascinating as the motley Mob crew in "Beat the Reaper."

There is one exception: a real-life character who will serve as a referee on this camping trip to authenticate an urban legend. To reveal the ref's name would spoil one of the book's truly great surprises.

Dr. Bazell can turn a pulp-fictionish phrase with the best of them, and our protagonist's observations dust pop-culture references over truly interesting factoids. They skip lightly across a wide range of subjects, from the effects of LSD on the human body to "the singular of 'biceps' is 'biceps,' " to catastrophic paleontology.

Upon meeting some of his fellow explorers, Bearclaw notes:

"Grody has to be around 24 now. He's a singer/dancer thing who came out of a boy band. Pop songs you hear in a cab en route to some ex-pat bar and think are sung by an actual middle-aged black man. Women on cruise ships always have him on their [mp3] mixes.

"In person Grody's tiny, bug-eyed, smiling and twitchy, but at least he's got a pair of actual black men with him. They're enormous. When they first see the Teng brothers' bodyguards, there's a four-way sunglass stare-off that makes you hope for some Super Streetfighter IV action later on."

Even the neverending footnotes can be pretty amusing, as in, "Personally, I don't think technology's all that bad. If digital devices really do make children less likely to develop the skills and focus to, say, design more digital devices, how is that not a self-limiting problem?"

So what's not to love? Fans of "Beat the Reaper" know there is a joy to following Pietro as he goes all medieval on the Mob, and that doesn't happen until well into the book. Then there's a lack of a worthy opponent: meth-heads and hypocrite politicians just don't measure up, compared with tried-and-true nasty guys in "Beat the Reaper."

The ending of "Wild Thing" -- if you ignore an amusing but overly long appendix -- promises a third book. This time, let's hope everyone steers clear of the woods.


* Who knew the federal Witness Protection Program covered med school?

** There is no doubt an anagram in there somewhere.

*** As well as annoying.

**** Of course, she's sexy. And, this is the last footnote. Promise.

Maria Sciullo : or 412-263-1478 First Published February 12, 2012 5:00 AM

Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here