Written by: Donald E. Westlake
Published by: Hard Case Crime
I fully intended to waffle, but I didn’t know how exactly I was going to go about it.
Hard Case Crime provides a true blast from the past in Brothers Keepers by crime fiction icon Donald E. Westlake. Initially published in 1975, Brothers Keepers tells the story of Brother Benedict of the Crispinite Order of the Novum Mundum. A fussy but essentially harmless order of Roman Catholic monks dedicated themselves to the study of Travel. Mainly by refusing to move or go anywhere.
Walking the readers through a charming and consistently funny introduction to the Order and its motley crew of former lawyers, crooks, and prize-fighters who have dedicated their lives to the Order and their beloved, two-century-old monastery. They wile away their days with study and prayer, and Brother Benedict is our “tour guide” through it all. They are oddly located at the prime real estate position of Park Ave, New York. Smack dab between 51st and 52nd Street. A relic of the old world standing tall despite it all as the city grew around it.
Unfortunately, a well-connected family in New York wants to build a high rise. And the Order’s monastery stands in the way. Kicking off a grandly hilarious comedy of errors, drawing Brother Benedict into a new routine of Travel and temptations. Far away from his beloved monastery and into a world of rum, femme fatales, and bruisers. Where he can only trust that his faith and skills of his fellow Brothers will see him through. That is…if he doesn’t have too much rum first.
While Brothers Keepers’ plot is tried-and-true Hard Case Crime fare, I cannot stress enough how goddamn FUNNY this book is. Told exclusively through Brother Benedict’s self-effacing and immediately charming narration, Westlake flexes a different set of muscles here. Though readers might most know Westlake as “Richard Stark”, the creator of the hard-knuckled Parker, Brothers Keepers functions more like a Coen Brothers comedy.
However, Westlake’s comedy still glitters with pulpiness. As we are given more and more details of the Order’s doctrine, the struggle for control of the monastery consistently heats up.
Chiefly, this underscores the comedy well. Allowing all the gags and charming character beats to have real plot implications. Further, it makes Brothers Keepers almost impossible to put down for long. Either because you have to know what becomes of poor Brother Benedict, or you have to know who ends up in control of the Park Ave mission! As you become more and more invested in the whole thing, the longer it goes on.
Ultimately, Brothers Keepers stands as a shining rediscovery for Hard Case Crime. And a real treat for Westlake die-hards and newbies alike. Though it brings all the hallmarks one would expect from the publisher, its constantly charming voice and deliciously clever prose give it a real edge on the shelves, especially for readers looking for something funny but not insubstantial. Brothers Keepers is all that and a whole lot more.