Dr. Peter Brown, ne Pietro Brnwa [pronounced “Browna”], has become a doctor thanks to the Witness Protection Program in which he was placed several years before the story opens. [His nickname, “Bearclaw,” has its own backstory, at which one could never even begin to guess.] Pietro bears rather unusual tattoos, at least in combination: a snake staff on one shoulder, a Star of David on the other. I hasten to add that these are the words with which I opened my review of “Beat the Reaper,” the first, wonderful novel by Josh Bazell which introduced this most unique protagonist; there is little reference to his background in this, the second entry in the series, other than the fact that he was a hired killer who had murdered an impressive number of victims before and is still trying by any means to elude the attempts of his former employers to kill him. As the book opens, his present means of accomplishing this finds him working as a doctor on a cruise ship [not nearly as impressive or desirable a job as it might at first seem].
When he is offered a substantial sum of money by a ‘reclusive billionaire’ to accompany, and safeguard, a gorgeous paleontologist on a trip into the Minnesota woods [and waters] to prove, or disprove, an urban legend, he quickly accepts. Whether or not the whole thing is a hoax – – well, there are several theories put forth, that being only one of them. Basically signing on for a twelve-day canoe trip, the various invited members of the group are seeking to find out if there is actually, as rumored, a Minnesota version of the Loch Ness monster, paying very handsomely for the privilege. This is a whacky, and very funny, tale and, be warned, if profanity disturbs you, this is not the book for you.
Nominally the plot is about the protagonist’s attempt to somehow buy his way out of a mafia vendetta. The book is replete with footnotes, informative and often hilarious. The author concludes with a section titled “Sources,” about forty pages long, which perhaps gives a hint of what has preceded it, and is alone worth the price of the book, material referencing, e.g., critical events from the Reagan and Carter years, and outgrowths thereof, as well as those of the current President of the US; Dick Cheney’s “hunting” incident; discussions of contemporaneous medical/health care issues, including meds prescribed for PTSD and other mental health disorders; corruption among politicians in all levels of government; decisions from the recent past by the US Supreme Court; environmental issues; many of these possibly polarizing but brilliantly set forth, which also describes the book as a whole. One thing is for certain: Very funny and profane as it might be, this is a book that is difficult to describe, but one that will make you laugh, and make you think, and it is recommended.