Killers with a Conscience

sistersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, is a “Western.”  I don’t normally read “Westerns,” and in fact, this may be the first “Western” I’ve ever read, since no other “Western” novels come to mind. I didn’t think I liked “Westerns,” but surprisingly, I really enjoyed reading this novel.

The novel is a dark comedy told from the 1st person perspective of  one of the Sisters brothers – Eli Sisters (the other being Charlie Sisters).  The events of The Sisters Brothers takes place in 1851 and the Sisters brothers are notorious hired guns, commissioned by a certain “Commodore,” to travel from Oregon City to California to hunt down and kill a man who has wronged him greatly.

For a pair of infamous murderers, Charlie, and especially Eli, are surprisingly considerate, if not even kind, toward others.  Eli is a very introspective and sensitive narrator, often questioning his and his brother’s motives for doing what they do. In questioning his line of work, he often expresses his desire to quit and move on to a quieter, more respectable type of employment.

Though the novel reads like a light comedy, it has very dark and gloomy undertones, with characters who,  despite seeming kind on the surface, are cold-blooded murderers who are deeply disturbed.  The brothers share a terrible past which could account for their tempers and talent for killing.

Throughout the book, I found myself rooting for the pair of anti-heroes as they encountered different adventures during their trip to California.  Not only did I want them to succeed in their plan, but I also found myself liking them despite their occupation.  Even in the end, when justice seemed to have been served, I sympathized with the brothers’ loss and wished them better fortunes.

The Sisters Brothers is a bittersweet tale about the hardships and choices in life, and the circumstances behind their choices; and despite doing what you think is right, you won’t always get the reward or the peace you longed for.  It is a novel with a heart – just like the Sisters brothers are killers with  a heart.


The Sisters Brothers (2011) – Patrick DeWitt

348 pages

Personal rating:  3/5

2 thoughts on “Killers with a Conscience

  1. I read this book a while ago and never got around to writing a review, but it just so happens that I agree with basically everything you’ve written here. I pretty much never read Westerns, so I have no idea how this compares to the genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by how sympathetic and insightful Eli was as a narrator. Not to mention funny — his whole obsession with toothbrushes was hilarious while revealing a lot about Eli at the same time, which I thought was pretty skillful. The relationship between the two brothers was so complex and true that it was almost painful to read at times. I just wanted Charlie to approve of Eli for once, for god’s sake!

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