The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt. Anansi 2011.
To my surprise, I loved this book.
I say surprise because a western about hired killers isn’t the sort of thing I usually read. However, The Sisters Brothers was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award and has already won the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize. I just learned now that The Sisters Brothers won the GG award for fiction, which was announced yesterday. There must be something special about this book.
Charlie and Eli Sisters are hired killers. Charlie began his career as a killer early in life when he rescued his abused Mom by shooting his father. From there, one murder seemed to lead to another and Charlie found he had a taste for killing, was good at it. Some sticky situations required a helping hand, and his younger brother Eli became his partner. Eli doesn’t have the same career committment as does Charlie, but is faithful to the older brother who looked out for him when he was young. The brothers are employed by a powerful man known only as The Commodore.
In unembroidered, fast-moving prose, Eli narrates this tale of the brothers’ adventures as they set out to track down a Californian prospector named Hermann Warm. As they journey from Oregon City to California, they encounter whores and bears and orphans and scoundrels. After stopping to make purchases from a shopkeeper, Eli imagines he could enjoy the quiet life of an independent businessman. Why does the Commodore want Warm dead anyway? Charlie has no such qualms. He is content with his life of murder and mayhem.
When the brothers finally catch up with Warm, the story takes a surprising twist before leading to a satisfying conclusion. Along the way there are both gruesome scenes and comic moments. Eli is a compelling and unforgettable character, an engaging murderer. This really is a special book, worthy of all the attention it has garnered. This edition is set off by a great cover by Dan Stiles.