“The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick de Witt


Wikipedia says:

The Sisters Brothers is a historical novel by Canadian-born author Patrick deWitt.

The darkly comic, Western-inspired story takes place in Oregon and California in 1851. The central characters are Eli Sisters (the narrator) and his brother Charlie Sisters, who are both murderers for hire. The series of adventures depicted resemble the narrative form of a picaresque novel, and the chapters are, according to one review, “slightly sketched-in, dangerously close to a film treatment.”This novel follows two brothers, Eli and Charlie Sisters, infamous assassins sent on an errand to kill Hermann Kermit Warm, an ingenious (and, as it turns out, extremely likable) man, who is accused of stealing from their boss, a fearsome figure named the Commodore.

The book was inspired by a Time–Life book on the California Gold Rush, which DeWitt found at a yard sale. The film rights for the novel have been sold to actor John C. Reilly’s production company.


We read this in January 2013.

Jill’s summary of discussion by 13 people:

Most people enjoyed the book and appreciated the black humour. A couple of people strongly disliked the violence and didn’t find the book humorous.

Several people felt that they appreciated the book even more because of being a real change from recent reading. The Western genre was enjoyed as a visual element. None of us understood the two intermissions. Many of us felt empathy for Eli.

Several of us were shocked to hear that the Guardian had reviewed it on their children’s book page and recommended it for children of 12 upwards though it was pointed out that this review was by a child. Points given ranged from 1 to 8.5 with most marks being 7 or above though the 2 very low marks brought the average down to 6.7.

Leave a comment


  1. Your mention of the Intermissions as a nod to the movies suggested a take on the historical accuracy of the novel. It was remarked that the gunfights for example were not historically accurate. But perhaps the history of the book is history as portrayed in Hollywood Westerns and we’re shown the ‘reality’ behind the portrayals in the films – the lack of moral consideration behind the killings.
    There are many evocations of Western tropes in the book – the faster-than-lightning draw, the withdrawal from a fight on realising who the brothers were, the all-black outfit, the grizzled prospector, etc.

  2. hilaryfbbc

     /  January 20, 2013

    This is a unique read – I found it was easy to get immersed in the plot due to the strong story-line, I enjoyed it all apart form the dream-like Intermissions (which maybe served the purpose of making the reader feel they were at the movies?) with a John Wayne type visual going through my head the whole time (it would make a great Coen brothers or even Tarantino film?). The moral dilemmas / emotions come through particularly in the last chapters (no spoilers in case the reader of this blog hasn’t read to the end) and sort of justify the violent episodes. A macho read I felt. Bring on the baked beans by the campfire! Almost makes me think I should read a ‘normal’ Western – plenty in the libraries – to see how fresh a take on the genre this is. But I have said that before about ‘romantic’ type fiction in relation to the Mills & Boon -type books and can’t manage to do it somehow……………………………..


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