Belated Reminder: A Westlake classic, Traveling once more.

Brother Clemence spoke first. “There’s no record of the lease with the County Clerk,” he told us. “I swear to you that when I expressed surprise at that, an ancient clerk there snapped at me, ‘Don’t you know there was a war on?’ Meaning the Revolution. Most of New York City was held by the British under martial law throughout the Revolution, and many deeds and leases and other legal papers just didn’t get properly recorded. A transfer of property would eventually have found its way into the records, but a simple rental doesn’t create as many legal necessities.”

Brother Dexter said, “But the lease is still binding, isn’t it, even if it isn’t recorded?”

“So long as one party retains a copy of it and wishes to enforce it,” Brother Clemence said, “it’s still binding. But I just wish I could get a look at the wording of the thing. Brother Oliver, still no luck with our copy?”

“I spent all day searching for it,” Brother Oliver said mournfully, and the dust smudges on his cheeks and the tip of his nose bore silent witness. “I’ve searched everywhere, I was even in the attic. I went through every page of VEILED FOR THE LORD, just in case it had been put in there by mistake.”

Brother Clemence squinted, “VEILED FOR THE LORD?”

“Brother Wesley’s fourteen-volume novel,” Brother Oliver explained, “based on the life of Saint Jude the Obscure.”

“I’ve never actually read that,” Brother Hilarius commented. “Do you recommend it?”

“Not wholeheartedly,” Brother Oliver told him.

Brother Clemence, who was usually a jovial galumphing St. Bernard sort of man, could become a bulldog when his attention was caught, and this time his attention had been caught for fair. “I need that lease,” he said, his heavy white-haired head thrusting forward over the refectory table as though he would chomp the missing lease in his jaws. “I need to look at it, I need to see the wording.

Absent-minded as I am, it had quite slipped my mind that Brothers Keepers was due out in early February, courtesy of Hard Case Crime. (Well, it was a Hard Case edition of a never-before-published Westlake novel that told us in grim detail how unreliable a tool memory can be.)

As is their usual custom there, the book is available both as an e-edition and a reasonably priced paperback, complete with misleadingly sexy cover.  In fairness, there is intercourse other than the social in this one, and at least they got Ms. Flattery’s hair color right (though she doesn’t look very Irish to me with that golden tan–must be the Puerto Rican sunshine).

I quite like this art, which covers the bases, story wise.  My heart will always belong to the original M. Evans dust jacket, which puts full emphasis on the monastery and its dowdy yet doughty denizens.  But that more contemplative approach, appropriate though it may be, doesn’t work for a crime novel in paperback.

Begging the question–is this a crime novel?  I would assume somebody at Hard Case must have posed the question at some point.  A few people get punched.  A few documents are pilfered.  A foiled mugging in Central Park.  A monastic vow of chastity is repeatedly and pleasurably broken.

The only malefactor of note in the piece is an avaricious and unapologetic New York City real estate developer, seeking to destroy a beautiful old building to put up an ugly glass tower, caring not that this will destroy the lives of a handful of monks whose order is so obscure, one suspects the Vatican has no inkling of its existence.

A very white collar crime novel, one must conclude.  But that is, after all, the sort of crime many of us are most concerned with of late, or ought to be.

I go back and forth over which of Westlake’s comic novels that isn’t about Dortmunder is my personal favorite, but I always come back to this, and have long lamented its absence from the ranks of books in print.

Precisely because it’s so hard to slot, it’s been hard to find a lasting home for it, and all glory and praise to Charles Ardai & Co. for returning it to us, like an illuminated manuscript of the deed to a long-neglected sanctum sanctorum of the soul, where the primary object of contemplation is human folly–and the joys of brotherhood.  And, of course, the perilous possibilities of Travel.  Broadens the mind, they do say.  But that depends very much on what spirit it is undertaken in.

Of Mr. Westlake’s problem books, the two outstanding absentees are now Adios Scheherazade and A Likely Story.  I have been known to put a bug in the ear of the odd publisher about their absence from the rolls.  And it would take a very odd publisher indeed to take a chance on either, but what joy to see them breathe again.  To present their problems to us–which are still our problems today.  We need to take another look at them. We need to see the wording.

Sorry for the long absence–I’ve got things in mind, and if I can just relocate my mind (which has been absent, as mentioned), I’ll get to them.  In the meantime, I see The Official Westlake Blog has found a few covers for this one I had not heretofore encountered–and my fidelity to the M. Evans dustjacket is now sorely beset–

brothers_keepers_japan1_1

From Japan–and I think I’m not the only one who recognizes this is the same unsung genius who did several Dortmunder covers I’ve showcased here in past.  (It’s so breathtakingly wonderful, I don’t even care that Eileen’s hair is the wrong color.)

The title translates to We Are Salvation to the Saints, and I’m just now realizing how well the story would translate to a Buddhist monastery or Shinto Shrine, threatened by development in Tokyo or Osaka.  Now that would have been a great Kurosawa film.

Here’s the Rivages edition–

brothers_keepers_france1_1

Droll indeed, and Rivages continues, in its own modern way, the classic tradition of Le Série Noire–ie, never pay for original cover art if you can possibly avoid it.  Never mind if it fits the story or  not!  It is noir, ne c’est pas?  Read the book and stop complaining!  Hopefully at least they shelled out for a decent translation.  But Rivages publishes more Westlake than any other house I’m aware of.

brothers_keepers_5

Same title used by an Argentinian publisher, but I believe this edition hails from Spain.   And I don’t like it one bit, but I like that the birthplace of so many religious orders has its own edition.  Curious–does the term Brothers Keepers (derived from a familiar children’s taunt) not translate into any language other than English?  Well, at least there’s the actual English–

brothers_keepers_uk2_1

brothers_keepers_uk2_2

Good old Hodder and Staunton.  Not a bad job at all.  But I’m still all agog over the Japanese cover. How many more Westlakes did this luminary illuminate?

Hey, if there’s anybody out there who can read Japanese–can you see the name of the artist?  I think I want to erect a shrine to him. Or her.

brothers_keepers_japan1_2

brothers_keepers_japan1_3

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Traveling to do.  Metaphorically and literally.

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7 Comments

Filed under Brothers Keepers, Donald Westlake novels, Uncategorized

7 responses to “Belated Reminder: A Westlake classic, Traveling once more.

  1. That Japanese cover is great. It reminds me a bit of Polish movie posters. (if you ever want to go down a rabbit hole, do a Google image search for the Polish movie poster for your favorite American movies.)

    Charles Ardai and the fine folks at Hard Case truly are doing God’s work over there, keeping Westlake (and others) in print. In another universe, they snagged the rights to the entire Parker series, and wouldn’t I have liked to have seen those covers.

    • I suppose they could just commission cover art for all the Starks and publish that, without the text (maybe an historical overview of the series to justify it). I’d buy it.

      I’ve heard rumors that there’s a few more out-of-print Westlakes coming to Hard Case, but not the two I mentioned here. Those two are tricky, no two ways about it.

      Adios Scheherazade is a searingly honest look into the male libido and its discontents, that is all the more timely now, but so far from what we associate with Westlake, it’s bound to raise hackles here and there. How crazy is it, though, that Ronald Rabbit Is a Dirty Old Man is evailable, and Adios isn’t? Not to mention several of the actual sleazes they wrote together. Seems like people who dig old school erotica are offended by Adios as well. You can’t please everybody, but offending everybody is dead easy.

      A Likely Story might well have some issues relating to all the famous writers it enlists as off-screen characters, but more problematic still–there’s no crime in it at all! And are publishers going to line up for a scathing satire of their own industry?

      And yet I dream that some small house will get them digitized and out there again. And then I dream of that Red Harvest script.

      Killing Time would seem ideal for Hard Case, and a logical follow-up to The Mercenaries, except for the fact that its protagonist and his long-suffering gal pal are not what you’d call glamorous, and the sex angle isn’t developed much.

      So? Hire an artist. Glam them up. You know you want to. 😉

      • rinaldo302

        For those interested in Westlake in the first place (a select but loyal audience), I can’t see its genre or subject matter being a deterrent. It’s become a great rarity, hard to find, and making it available again would surely earn considerable gratitude. Especially if they get the pagination right — crucial in this book as in no other — as the paperback edition (which I own) didn’t.

        • That does make it a challenge to put in ebook format, though. People fiddle with the font size, they change the pagination. Most recent instances of Westlake novels returning to print have actually been ebooks.

          I actually suggested to the publisher that brought back Under an English Heaven that Adios would be a great follow-up. He sounded interested. Nothing since.

          Hard Case, which does paperback editions as well as ebooks (occasional hardcovers, but this should be a paperback) would be the ideal home for it. And really, Adios would fit their brand better than Brothers Keepers.

          After all, it’s got the threat of violence (from the vaguely criminal in-laws). It’s got a character who is clearly meant to represent Richard Stark. It’s got the law closing in for a crime he only imagined committing.

          And sex! More sex than in any Westlake that isn’t an actual sleaze! Well, more talk about sex than sex itself. But some actual sex. Real sex. As sex actually is, counterposed with how us guys want it to be. Ay, there’s the rub. :\

          It is one of his masterpieces. Lawrence Block agrees, and I’d guess he’s brought it up now and again. But for whatever reason, it remains out of print. And increasingly hard to find.

  2. Back to the mystery artist of Japan–I can find four covers in this very distinct style, all self-evidently from the same publisher, and all comic crime novels Westlake published under his own name that originally appeared in the 70’s.

    Bank Shot: Original publication year, 1972. Japanese edition, 1975.

    Jimmy the Kid: 1974, 1977.

    Brothers Keepers: 1975, 1981

    Nobody’s Perfect: 1977, 1982

    A roughly three year gap with the first two, then six years, then five. Obviously the covers were not all commissioned at once, but the rights to the last three could theoretically have been obtained all at once.

    The fact that I haven’t found Japanese editions for other Westlakes published around this time doesn’t prove there were no others from this publisher. There are definitely other Japanese editions of Dortmunder novels, but from later in the series.

    I do actually have a good friend in my nabe who hails from the isle of Nippon, so maybe I’ll ask her to translate. Might prove fruitless, since the world over, cover art is not always credited in the book, no matter how creditable it may be.

  3. One of my favorite Westlakes. My wife and I got a catchphrase out of it. “No change in Babylon.”

    • Brother Oliver gets all the best lines in this thing–well, he is the Abbot. But try telling that to Bud Abbott, who only ever got straight lines. Perhaps this reversal constitutes an especially well-concealed implicit pun on Mr. Westlake’s part? Perhaps not.

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