First things first: I got a free advance copy of the re-release of this novel thanks to the good folks over at Hard Case Crime! I collect HCC books as a hobby and am on their mailing list. I won a contest for a free copy of this one. They are awesome and know how to reward loyal customers. Much love to Charles Ardai and all the good folks over there.
Donald Westlake is the kind of writer I would love to be, someone who’s métier is crime novels but who also writes about an assortment of other topics in thriller/suspense/mystery fashion. This one has a strong religious bend to it and is another winner from the master himself.
The story focuses on a fictional monastery in the 1970s that operates on prime Manhattan real estate. The owner of the land is looking to pull a fast one on the unsuspecting monks who live there by selling it without their knowledge. When they find out, they do all they can to stop it.
The charge is led by Brother Benedict who is worldly enough to be fun and holy enough to respect the premise of the novel. He seeks to stop the deal from happening and along the way gets entangled with the landowners daughter. The predictable secular temptations ensue, making it a bumpy finish for an otherwise enjoyable book. But Brother Benedict is a fun character nevertheless and seeing the struggle of the monks trying to keep their building through his eyes is the best part of the book.
This isn’t some Left Behind Christian fic. Westlake respects the sacred nature of holy orders; he is neither affirming nor patronizing. He is simply using this as a vehicle for a story. And it’s a familiar one to me. I’m a Pastor and I’ve done community organizing in the past. I know how monumental it feels to take on massive companies who have money and power and an interest only in their well being. It was a struggle that felt real to me. This may not be the most exciting Hard Case Crime novel for most but it resonates to this particular reader.
Not really a thriller or a mystery, Brothers Keepers is hard to classify. I guess it’s suspense as you don’t know until the end if they’ll make it or not. The stakes are low to the world but high for these men and Westlake does a great job of examining this, trusting the reader to be smart enough to make their own inferences. A fun book from a legendary, versatile writer.