Friday, January 15, 2010

January Magazine: best crime fiction of 2009

January Magazine's contributors found so many quality crime novels from 2009 that it published a two-part "best of list. One debut novel to make the grade:
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell (Little, Brown) 320 pages

Peter Brown is an intern at a crappy Manhattan hospital, and he’s got a secret. A big one. He’s really a former hit man, now in the U.S. Federal Witness Protection Program. Things are going smoothly ... until he comes across an old associate who threatens to blow the whistle on him and have him killed if he doesn’t save him from the cancer that’s eating his organs. Josh Bazell’s debut novel has its flaws: the supporting cast is shockingly thin; you can predict every single plot twist in this novel if you’ve read or seen any mafia-related fiction (or, really, any crime fiction at all) over the last three decades; and the book feels weirdly short, and it’s even shorter on heart and soul. Nonetheless, I love it. I learned something this year: Books grow. They change. This time last year, I didn’t think Beat the Reaper would find a place on my Best of 2009 list. I didn’t even think I’d remember it a year from then. Yet the book stayed with me. I even re-read it, and now, understanding all the flaws it contains, I can get past them and enjoy the author’s voice. And Bazell may have the best new writer’s voice I’ve discovered in a long time. It’s quick and snappy, with a great smart-ass tone to it. And he employs footnotes to great effect: they’re funny, they’re educational (I now know that it’s really hard to murder somebody with air bubbles in a needle), and best of all, they serve the plot. The writing actually gets better as this book moves along, and toward the end, Bazell starts to show the heart that I often find lacking in this sort of book. I can’t wait to see what’s next from this author.
--Cameron Hughes
Read about another debut novel to make the list.

Beat the Reaper also made the Telegraph's list of best crime books of 2009 and is one of Time's top ten fiction books of 2009.

The Page 69 Test: Beat the Reaper.

--Marshal Zeringue