Patrick deWitt ‘The Sisters Brothers’


I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job. It was threatening to snow and I was cold and for want of something to do I studied Charlie’s new horse, Nimble. My new horse was called TubEC2DDB73-A815-4577-A8EC-496B350B0A83….Tub was a healthy enough animal but would have been better suited to some other, less ambitious owner. He was portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty miles in a day. I was often forced to whip him, which some men do not mind doing and which in fact some enjoy doing, but which I did not like to do; and afterward he, Tub, believed me cruel and thought to himself, Sad life, sad life.


Charlie and Eli Sisters, the Sisters brother’s a famous pair of professional killers are sent by the Commodore from Oregon city to Sacramento in California to find and kill Hermann Kermit Warm in 1851. Patrick deWitt tells us through their eyes of the West around the time of the Goldrush, of the rapidly growing towns of the desperate and lonely 49ers and of San Francisco and he chaos of the time as ships sail into the harbour and are left unloaded with their goods rotting as whole ships companies take to the hills looking for gold.

Into that chaos come Charlie and Eli Sisters, Charlie comfortable with his life as a killer, asking no questions and his brother Eli, tortured by the life he leads but loyal to his brother, Charlie a cold blooded killer and Eli réticent until he loses his temper. The story begins with the opening quote as the brothers are given in part payment for a job The horses they will take on the trip with them, the names say it all as Charlie takes Nimble for himself and leaves Eli with Tub.

Warm has found a way to get gold from the river, he has a liquid which when tipped in large quantities into the river causes gold to shine for a short period allowing him to just wade in and pick it out, but even the loyalist Of killers can be tempted by the promise of gold. What is the liquid? Well it kills anything in the river downstream and you really don’t want to come into contact with it, but then gold is gold and it is lying there waiting to be scooped up.

In his 2011 Mann Booker short listed book, the humour is dry and dark and the setting of the story and the descriptions of the times and the different characters are of more interest than the actual story.

First Published in English as “The Sisters brothers” in 2011 by Ecco.
Translated into French by Emmanuelle and Philippe Aronson as “Les frères Sisters” and published by Actes Sud in 2012

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