Wild Thing: A Novel by Josh Bazell (Little, Brown, and Company, 2012. 388 pp)

Josh Bazell has a B.A. in writing from Brown University and an M.D. from Colombia University. His first book is an international bestseller entitled Beat the Reaper, which has been published in thirty-two languages, and was one of Time’s ten best novels of 2009.

Hit-man Turned Doctor/Investigator 

In 2009, author Josh Bazell introduced the world to Pietro Brnwa/Peter Brown/Dr. Lionel Azimuth, a mafia hit-man/doctor/bodyguard in his widely acclaimed novel, Beat the Reaper. When I opened it, I don’t know what I expected, but definitely not what I picked up. It was a thriller, with some amazing commentary and comedy interlaced within. So I picked up Wild Thing, the next novel starring Peter Brown. It has received positive and negative reviews for various reasons, but I think the reasons Beat the Reaper was so successful are still very much present in his newest offering. It still is an amazingly humorous novel, with even more hilarious footnotes, and an intriguing storyline as well.

Dr. Lionel Azimuth (our protagonist) is in the witness protection program due to his work with the mob as a hit-man, and the book is written as if it were his journal, with many witty asides to the reader. Now a doctor on a cruise ship, his life is both comfortable and easy. He’s not the most educated doctor in the world, as he was rejected by American universities, and was forced to get his medical degree from a university in Mexico.

Azimuth is then called into a reclusive billionaire’s employ. The wealthy man, Rec Bill, offers Azimuth an exorbitant amount of money to go searching along with a catastrophic paleontologist named Violet Hurst for a fabled lake monster (think Loch Ness) in the bottom of White Lake.

“What Violet Hurst describes as a catastrophic paleontology is primarily the mix of sociology, anthropology, and ecology…sometimes called either environmental sociology or human ecology” (352-353).

The White Lake Monster


Photo by gerritsenbeach.net/

The theories behind this fabled monster of White Lake are numerous. Bazell organizes the novel into sections exploring the theories, from murder to hoax. As far as the theory of a hoax goes, there are a couple stories presented (presented in the succeeding quotations) that are a little hard to believe.

“As Autumn starts to breaststroke back toward the south end of the lake, Benjy explodes out of the water in front of her, visible to mid-chest and vomiting a dark rope of blood that slaps her like something from a bucket. Then he gets yanked back under. He’s gone. The heat of his blood is gone too. It’s like Autumn imagined the whole thing. But Autumn knows she didn’t imagine it. That what she’s just seen is something terrible and permanent—and which might be about to happen to her. She turns and sprint-swims for the rocky beach at the base of the cliff. Full-out crawl, no breathing allowed. Swim or die” (5).

Two children swimming in a lake get pulled under by some creature. The greater likelihood is that they were killed somehow. But, the people of White Lake are both tired of the stories, and scared of the creature. One to survive the attack is named Brisson,

“Brisson wakes up with a strong urge to twitch his left leg. Breathes in air that’s pure hot rotten fish, and chokes. Looks down. His left leg, to mid-thigh, is in the mouth of a gigantic black snake stretching out of White Lake. The snake’s rocky head is shaped like a piece of pie, with its eyes on the sides of the wedge like on an eagle’s. The pupils are vertical slits. The snake’s teeth don’t look like snake teeth, though. They’re serrated triangles, with just their tips pressing into his flesh…The snake doesn’t let him go. It raises its body partly out of the water to gain leverage. It’s no snake. It’s got shoulders” (32).

Because of all these stories, a local man named Reggie sets up a lengthy expedition where he takes rich people wanting to have a chance to see the monster on a tour. Violet and Lionel sign up for the tour, and an intriguing story of epic proportions ensues.

Research and Footnotes 

Photo by Rob Watski

Ultimately what makes the book interesting isn’t the plot itself, but rather the copious amounts of research (there’s a lengthy appendix and sources section at the end of the novel) and footnotes that go into the novel. Since the novel is written as a journal of Dr. Azimuth, the footnotes are many, and frankly hilarious. For those of us (like myself) that have trained ourselves to skip over the footnotes, I’d say the whole point of the novel is actually to read them. They’re more hilarious and entertaining than the plot itself. An example,

“The singular of ‘triceps’ is ‘triceps,’ because ‘triceps’ means ‘three heads,’ referring to how the muscle splits at one end into oh, shit, I drifted off there. ‘Biceps’ and ‘quadriceps’ are similar” (76).

Since the investigation of the lake monster is as close to a plot as the book gets, the whole point of the novel is really to get the humor in the footnotes section and laugh out loud at the randomness it provides.

Beat the Reaper

Wild Thing is a fantastic novel, but Lionel Azimuth/Pietro Brnwa isn’t actually in any danger in this novel. So, for me, the “thrill” is missing. I do really recommend this novel, as it’s hilarious and intriguing, and the investigation of a lake monster is fascinating. Its extremely vulgar language (I counted upwards of fourteen f-bombs on a single page) is a novelty, but it frankly lacks the finesse and thrill of its predecessor Beat the Reaper. I still thoroughly recommend the book, but I think you should pick up Bazell’s first novel before you get going on this one.

Verdict: 3 out of 5

Posted by: Andrew Jacobson

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