Josh Bazell, the author of Beat the Reaper, is a medical resident at UC San Francisco. His hero, Peter Brown, nee Pietro Brnwa, aka the Bearclaw, is also a medical resident, at the fictional Manhattan Catholic Hospital. There, one would hope, the similarities end.
Pete Brown is not a very good doctor--he downs many pills, of various sorts, as if they were candy; he very loosely interprets the credo "First do no harm," putting his own personal emphasis on the word "first" while sometimes ignoring "do no harm;" and then there's his past as an off-the-books hitman for the mafia. But that's not to say that he doesn't know some shit...if only he could get his own shit together.
As Beat the Reaper opens, Pete is beating up and disarming a would-be mugger who has interrupted the rat vs. pigeon fight he's stopped to watch on his way to work. No, really. The first person narrative plunges us immediately into the action, which follows present events and flashes back to fill in the rest of the story, which is a doozy.
We learn that Pete was raised by his grandparents, holocaust survivors who were murdered when he was 14. His quest to learn why these mild, good people were murdered causes him to insinuate himself into a world which, while it's completely alien to his upbringing, he takes to as naturally as breathing.
He commits his first killing--a revenge killing--before he reaches his majority, and his first paid hit not long after that. He's in WITSEC (the Federal Witness Protection Program) by 22. He's lost the love of his life and killed his best friend before 25.
Pete's voice is smart-alecky. He's a self-deprecating know-it-all, whose narrative is complete with footnotes which are both informative and hilarious. The action is non-stop and very violent, and the novel works both as a stand alone or, potentially, as the first in a series.