Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Brothers Keeper

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

In Donald E. Westlake's Brothers Keeper, Brother Benedict of the Crispinite Order of the Novum Mundum tries to save his monastery by resorting to Travel.

The monastery is about to be sold out from under the sixteen monks at Christmastime. They own the building on prime real estate on a "bit of land north of the main part of Manhattan," but they lease the property. The 100-year lease is up. The owners are up to all kinds of skulduggery to sell the property.

If the book sounds silly, it is. It is light and funny. There is no murder. Just the threat the building will be sold.

The book begins with Brother Benedict in the confessional, confessing he has stolen an orange Flair pen. He stole the pen because one of the other brothers used it to work the New York Times crossword puzzle which is the bailiwick of Brother Benedict.

The book ends with Brother Benedict again in the confessional, this time confessing he has gone to the Caribbean, spent much of his time drunk, and slept with the daughter of the owner of the monastery land. None of this has saved the monastery because he refused to tell the one small lie that would have changed things.

In the midst of Brothers Keeper, Brother Benedict solves a portion of the mystery of what happened to the monks' original copy of the monastery lease using a quote from Sherlock Holmes. (Benedict is well read for a monk. He quotes Ray Bradbury, Shakespeare and others.)

Benedict has Traveled, though he belongs to an order formed for the contemplation of Travel. (They meditate about travel but they never go out of the monastery.) And he has listened to a scripture bash.

A scripture bash is something we used to talk about in seminary, two people quoting pieces of scripture at each other to win an argument. Most of the time the scripture is prooftexted. Prooftexting is taking scripture out of context, using it to make a predetermined point without any regard to what the scripture really means.

And to add to that, Benedict comes back home drunk carrying all the little airline liquor bottles he has saved for souvenirs. (For the airlines, that was a different time than nowadays!)

In case you can't tell, this is a funny book. I picked it up as a used paperback at Village Books here in town. The copyright is 1975.

I have to confess, I skipped a short part in the middle. Brother Benedict became a little tedious. But if you are looking for something to take your mind away from anything sensible, look for this well-plotted little book.


Corey Wilde said...

I have this one in my TBR stack. Sounds like it won't win me away from Westlake's Dortmunder series.

Joe Barone said...

No, it is not one of his more hard boiled mysteries, but I enjoyed it and found much to be learned from it. Westlake is such a master craftsman when it comes to plotting. And as you know, I need work on that.

Corey Wilde said...

No! Me, I liked your plot and the characterization was very fine. (My issues were far more minor and easily remedied.)

Westlake was certainly an ingenious plotter. I can't name another crime fic writer who I think was in the same league with him on that point. Some writers who crank out the same plot and gimmicks book after book (coughEvanovichcough) could learn from him, for sure.