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Wild Thing by Josh Bazell
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Wild Thing (2011)

by Josh Bazell

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Wild Thing, by author and physician Josh Bazell, is a sequel to his thrilling debut Beat The Reaper, which introduced former mob hitman Pietro Brwna as he tried to make up for his crimes by working as a doctor. Beat The Reaper was essentially Brwna's origin story, and spent much of its time flashing back over his life up to that point. It was simultaneously an intensely personal story and a breakneck thriller full of black-as-night gallows humor. For example, in one particularly nerve-wracking scene, Brwna uses one of his own bones as a weapon. As soon as I finished reading it, I wanted more, but I also couldn't quite picture where the story might go next. Beat The Reaper would be a hard act to follow for any author, and I'm glad that Bazell took up the challenge even if I don't think the results quite hit the mark.

We catch up with Brwna on a cruise ship three years after the events of the first book. Now he is going by the name Lionel Azimuth and pulling rotting teeth for crew members as part of his catch-all position as ship's doctor. Brwna hates life on the boat, so when his old mentor hooks him up with a job working for a reclusive billionaire (referred to only as Rec Bill), he jumps at the chance. At least, he does until he finds out that the job involves going to Minnesota and hunting for a mythological lake monster as part of what may or may not be a scam or criminal operation. Softening the blow is the fact that his companion for the trip will be Violet Hearst, a paleontologist who is both a knockout beauty and a firm believer in the inevitable apocalypse due to ecological catastrophes. Much to Brwna's surprise, Rec Bill is willing to pony up a steep payment for his cooperation in the trip, and soon enough he gives in despite his misgivings and Violet are on their way.

A lot of Wild Thing's reviews focus on the fact that the subject matter is so different from the first book that it feels strange that it has the same main character. However, I don't agree with the argument that this doesn't feel like a Pietro Brwna book; I think Bazell just does as good a job with Brwna's voice and sense of humor in Wild Thing, and I couldn't picture any other character taking the lead. I love the character, and definitely laughed out loud more than once. I also don't necessarily think that the cryptozoological angle doesn't fit with a story about Brwna, although I could see how hints of possible fantastic elements might raise the hackles of people who like things to stay "realistic".

What I do think is that Bazell actually wrote himself into a corner with Beat The Reaper. As good as it was, how do you write another book about the same character when you've a) revealed his entire backstory and b) established that he can't keep working in a big public hospital? Any kind of follow-up would have to shake things up. I think the real reason people say that Wild Thing doesn't feel like a Pietro Brwna book is that it isn't actually about him as a person. Beat The Reaper was entirely focused on Brwna's fall and redemption. All of the action and tension in the first book originated from events in his life both past and present, which meant that the stakes were exceedingly high and very personal.

In Wild Thing, the personal connections are more tenuous, although they are still present to some degree. Brwna has a fear of open water and sharks because the only woman he ever loved was killed in a shark tank, and he also has a fear of intimacy for much the same reason. Naturally, being in close quarters with a beautiful woman as they search for a lake monster means that some of his issues are going to come to the forefront. However, the stakes never feel very high in Wild Thing - either they find the lake monster or they don't, and Brwna can probably get on with his life either way. Maybe he goes back to the cruise ship, maybe he makes enough money to take care of his problem with mobsters trying to kill him. Compare that to Beat The Reaper, where Brwna is fighting for his life and for personal redemption all while trying to save patient's lives and barely sleeping, and it just doesn't sound quite as compelling.

However, my biggest problem with Wild Thing is that the plot basically unravels near the end of the book. A lot of time is spent building up to the camping trip and search for the monster, but when it finally gets to that point, the monster's reveal is over and done with in no time flat, and it feels very anticlimactic. It doesn't help that the camping trip feels vague and unmotivated once the characters are actually in the middle of the wilderness; after so much time spent discussing the dangers of the trip, very little time is actually spent on the trip itself.

There are also several characters introduced early on that never end up amounting to much. A fundamentalist couple show up at the lodge before the camping trip only to have a one-sided argument about religion with Violet Hearst before storming off-stage and never returning in any meaningful fashion. A Las Vegas magician is mentioned and then subsequently forgotten about until the end of the book as an offhand explanation for a plot point. Bazell misses a great opportunity to have these characters interact with each other and Brwna on the trip, and it's a damn shame.

It's frustrating that the book ends up basically trailing off at the end, because until that point I was definitely enjoying it. I actually liked it more when I first finished it than I did after thinking about it for a few minutes, which is always particularly disappointing. To me it's a sign of a great writer who perhaps bit off more than he could chew; once I was no longer distracted by his fantastic main character, the holes in the plot were far too easy to see.

However, the end of the book very clearly sets up a sequel that could end up bringing the focus back to Brwna's life; rather than continuing to live in hiding, Brwna decides to go on the offensive and strike back against the mob and his former employer. I'm definitely looking forward to it despite my misgivings about this book. Everything I liked about Wild Thing tells me that Bazell is a great author to watch. The problems I had may just be the symptoms of the dreaded sophomore slump that seems to affect so many great artists. ( )
  unsquare | Feb 6, 2014 |
(This review contains major spoilers.)

Wild Thing is such a pale shadow of Beat the Reaper that it reads like fan fiction based on Beat the Reaper.

Beat the Reaper presents a scenario that, while outlandish, seems plausible, if you accept that the protagonist is a very talented killer with a slow-moving conscience who is smart enough to be an adequate doctor. Versus Wild Thing, where you have to accept hucksters who are smart enough to get at least three super rich people and Sarah Palin to sign up for a tour to find a mythical sea monster, but stupid enough that their plan for getting paid is to feed everybody LSD and show them a fake plastic monster; a billionaire willing to spend $2 million to see if the woman the billionaire likes will sleep with the protagonist while on a hunt for a mythical sea monster; Azimuth's cover being blown by a Las Vegas magician who is travelling with Sarah Palin; and the entire mob hit team being massacred by a bunch of boys who were making meth in the kitchen of the restaurant where the mobsters happen to stop for a bite to eat.

OK, when I write out the plot points like that, the story seems not so bad, like it's intended to be pure camp, sort of like Raising Arizona -- but the problem is, it doesn't read like that. It's not actually funny or campy when you are reading it. It's like a script for Austin Powers played by Daniel Craig. I'm seriously wondering if Bazell was playing a game where he was trying to see how ridiculous he could make his storyline and still get paid by the publisher. ( )
  read.to.live | Jul 11, 2013 |
So, listen, to be up front with you: this is not a cryptozoology adventure. Which is what I at first thought it was. No no - our antihero Mr. Bearclaw Brnwa is back, this time a few years on the lam (again) and a cruise doctor. Things get weird when he meets a reclusive billionaire and even weirder when he's sent to Minnesota to track a lake monster. And that's only the half of it.

It's NOT a retread of the first novel - nor is it just a lateral step. Bazell has definitely matured: his wit is sharper, he's writing smarter, and he's having some fun while he does it. That said, the resolution is a bit of a joke / a let-down and there's definitely some fat that could've been trimmed. But all that aside... What a damn fun read! I mean that truly and sincerely. Let yourself enjoy the snappy writing and the ridiculousness. We could all use some of that now and then.


More about just how crazy it is - with LOTS OF SPOILERS AND LOTS OF CURSING - at Raging Biblioholism: http://wp.me/pGVzJ-qb ( )
  drewsof | Jul 9, 2013 |
This is the sequel to the excellent Beat the Reaper. If you haven't read that book yet, what are you waiting for?

Wild Thing features to return of Peter Brown, doctor on the run from the mob. This book doesn't have the same fast moving plot and witty dialogue that the first one had but it is still a fun read. Plenty of strange plot twists, a reclusive billionaire and a monster in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota make for a pretty fun read. Be prepared for some "what the?!?!" moments, specifically involving one of the "referees" during the excursion to search for the beast. Definitely worth the read and the ending sets up book 3 perfectly.
  walterqchocobo | Apr 8, 2013 |
Witty, funny, highly footnoted, and a fresh take on cryptozoology. I have not read Bazell's first novel, but that didn't at all harm my enjoyment of this book. Lionel Azimuth's journey to find a mysterious lake monster takes all sorts of clever twists and turns, complete with plenty of strange characters. I will say that I don't think Bazell understands women very well, or at least can't write them in any realistic way, but if you ignore that and just read for the kooky small town and cryptozoological antics, this is a quick, enjoyable read. ( )
  sparemethecensor | Mar 3, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316032190, Hardcover)

It's hard to find work as a doctor when using your real name will get you killed. So hard that when a reclusive billionaire offers Dr. Peter Brown, aka Pietro Brnwa, a job accompanying a sexy but self-destructive paleontologist on the world's worst field assignment, Brown has no real choice but to say yes. Even if it means that an army of murderers, mobsters, and international drug dealers-not to mention the occasional lake monster-are about to have a serious Pietro Brnwa problem.

Facing new and old monsters alike, Dr. Brnwa's story continues in this darkly funny and lightning-paced follow up to Josh Bazell's bestselling debut.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:05:44 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

When a reclusive billionaire offers Dr. Peter Brown, a.k.a. Pietro Brnwa, a job accompanying a sexy but self-destructive paleontologist on the world's worst field assignment, Brown has no real choice but to say yes. Even if it means that an army of murderers, mobsters, and international drug dealers--not to mention a lake monster--are about to have a serious Pietro Brnwa problem.… (more)

» see all 3 descriptions

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