Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Brothers Keepers: Donald E. Westlake

I loved this book, and I only hope I can convey exactly why I enjoyed it so much. At this point in the year, I can say for sure it is one of my favorite books of the year. Although it's author, Donald E. Westlake, is primarily known for his crime fiction, this is not a crime story. It is somewhat of a caper novel, and there is some detecting, so I did not really notice the absence of a real crime as I was reading it.

Brother Benedict is a member of the Crispinite order, numbering only 16 monks, which has occupied a building in midtown Manhattan, built by the original monks on leased land.  Brother Benedict discovers in the newspaper that the building that they are housed in will be demolished along with the rest of the block they live on. This order has a prohibition against travel unless absolutely necessary; thus the brothers are disturbed that they will have to leave the home they love. They believe that they have a legal right to stay, based on their lease, but the lease is missing. This is highly suspicious. They search for ways to prevent the demolition of the block, but they are thwarted everywhere they turn. In the midst of the effort to keep their home, Brother Benedict visits the landlord, traveling all the way to Puerto Rico, and falls in love with his daughter.

Even though this story is about a fictional order, I enjoyed reading about the details of life in the Crispinite order and the quirky members of the order. Brother Benedict treasures his life in the order and knows he is blessed to have found the perfect fit for him. And then he falls in love with a rich, self-centered divorcee who also falls for him, and Westlake makes this believable.

This is a charming, light, comic novel with a happy ending, even though it seems that there is no way it could end well.

This story is covered in depth at Clerical Detectives.

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Publisher:  Mysterious Press, 1993. Orig. pub. 1975.
Length:      261 pages
Format:     Paperback
Setting:     New York, Puerto Rico
Genre:      Comic caper
Source:     I purchased my copy. 


19 comments:

  1. Dog gone it, I just passed up Donald E. Westlake books at Wonder Books back in Maryland while at my sons! They had a nice selection of them. I’ve never read any. Next trip to his house in Dec. I’ll get a couple if their still there.

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    1. I would recommend any of Donald E. Westlake's humorous mysteries, Peggy. He also writes some darker novels and although I like anything he writes (so far), many people don't.

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  2. This does sound good, Tracy. I'm more familiar with Westlake's crime fiction than I am with his other fiction, but I can see how this would be really appealing. It's interesting to look 'behind the scenes' at the monks' lifestyles.

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    1. Margot: I did not even notice that this was not really a crime fiction book until I finished it, and started reading other reviews. I don't know how close to reality the depiction of life in the order is, but it seemed realistic to me.

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  3. I love the sound of this! I haven't read much by this author, even though I know he's very popular with a lot of people. sounds like this could be my way in.

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    1. I agree, this might be the perfect Westlake book for you, Moira.

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  4. Not read this one but I usually like Westlake (in his various guises) a lot - thanks Tracy :)

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    1. If you ever get a chance, Sergio, give it a try. I think you would like it, and if not, I would want to hear your criticisms.

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  5. Didn't know Westlake wrote humor, Tracy, but then I've read only a couple of his crime novels. Another one on the list!

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    1. Based on stories I have read, Mathew, Westlake started this book out as a crime novel but decided he could not make the characters be criminals. It is lots of fun.

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    2. A lot of people don't know he wrote anything but humor. He wrote under multiple names, in multiple veins. Always the same underlying voice, but he could change it up a lot. In some ways, you could say he had several different writing careers going on at once, for much of his life.

      Brothers Keepers, along with the equally funny and poignant Help I Am Being Held Prisoner is being reprinted by Hard Case Crime. Two of his best books, they really should not have been out of print so long.

      If you want a much darker strain of comedy, try Two Much!, which came out the same year as Brothers Keepers.

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    3. Thanks for reminding me about the books that Hard Case Crime is releasing. I had forgotten about those. Help I am Being Held Prisoner sounds good, but Two Much! might be too much for me.

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    4. Two Much has been evailable for years (because it got two film adaptations, both of which are terrible). It is, in its own perverse way, a very moral book. Moral the way Petronius is moral.

      Brothers Keepers isn't so cute and cuddly either, if you look close. But it's about somebody who comes to a better understanding of who he is, and Two Much is about somebody who hopelssly confuses his understanding of who he is. That's the morality of Westlake. Know Thyself. Or pay the price.

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    5. Ok, Chris, you have me very curious now and I will find a copy of Two Much. I agree, Brothers Keepers is not cute and cuddly, and that is why I like it.

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  6. Not sure if I have this one or not. It doesn't ring any bells. I hope I have!

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    1. It is a fun one, Col. I hope you have it too, or run into a copy someday.

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  7. This sounds wonderful.
    I'm joining a Mystery reading challenge (yes, I really am!)
    and need a book with a Xmas theme. I know you must have a few on your list! Suggestions?

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    1. I do have some suggestions, Nancy. Some are not strictly Xmas themed but set at Christmas. Many of them are older books. My favorites are:
      Not a Creature was Stirring by Jane Haddam
      An English Murder by Cyril Hare
      Murder at the Old Vicarage by Jill McGown
      Banking on Death by Emma Lathen
      Landed Gently by Alan Hunter
      Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer
      Winter Ground by Catriona McPherson (Scotland)
      Rest You Merry by Charlotte MacLeod
      A Stillness in Bethlehem by Jane Haddam
      Cold Mourning by Brenda Chapman (Canada)
      Thou Shell of Death by Nicholas Blake
      Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie
      The Holiday Murders by Robert Gott (Australian)
      This last one is not a mystery but very good:
      Mr. Ive's Christmas by Oscar Hijuelos

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