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–


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–


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?  Non?  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.


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–



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.



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


Filed under Brothers Keepers, Donald Westlake novels, Uncategorized

24 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.

      • Tom

        I enjoyed this book, speaking as a lapsed Catholic Even though I could never make myself believe in the theology of Christianity, I have a great fondness for the romance of the Church: the stained glass windows and magnificent cathedrals, the monasteries and the Irish rosary beads my grandmother gave me for Confirmation. This and ‘A Likely Story’ made me hunt for an anthology of Christmas literature (I figured there must be a good one out there, even if not quite like Westlake’s version) and found one in an out of print book called ‘A Christmas Book: An Anthology for Moderns’. Published in 1928. I set it out every Christmas.

        Greg’s comment about Polish movie posters reminded me of how crappy modern American movie posters and covers have gotten. They just seem to be a vehicle to showcase the star. As a child of the ’80’s I used to frequent video stores with fantastic looking covers that were wonderfully creative. I mean look at these:

        Okay, they were probably crappy movies, but still there was creativity in the artwork and they made me want to see them. The second was from H.R. Giger. The posters for the awful ‘Deathstalker’ movies were designed by Boris Vallejo. Just seems like people don’t put effort and artistry into things the way they used to….

        • There used to be a lot of very fine artists who made a sideline out of poster art. Robert E. McGinnis, for one, who did six covers for Parker novels, along with hundreds of other punchy paperbacks, but is far better known for his posters–Bond films, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, etc.

          And nowadays, I think they just whip them up on a laptop. Progress.

          I welcome you to the fold of the Lapsed, brother, but much as I like good stained glass, I’d still rather read the gospels, and come up with my own theology.

          My own feeling is that no two people ever believe exactly the same thing, and religions are just a way for us to pretend otherwise, but they do provide a place for us to meet, and I think Westlake respected that some might use faith as a way of finding themselves. Some of those nuns who taught him as a boy obviously made a good impression. Not sure if he knew any monks. Sometimes it’s more fun to make up your own.

          • Tom

            I’m surprised I didn’t mention it already: back when I was an anguished teenager, my parents sent me to a Catholic boarding school thinking it would do me some good. I dunno: I was the type who got caught talking during prayer and had to do a hundred pushups for punishment. Anyway, there was a priest I kinda liked who would show us films in class like ‘Brother Sun, Sister Moon’ about the life of St. Francis and the Brother Cadfael show. He seemed to have a special fondness for monks. One day in class he told a story about how he took some kids to a monastery to see how the monks lived. There was one old monk who told the kids “I was a fighter pilot in World War II, and yet ever since I joined this monastery, I haven’t been bored a single moment!’ The kids sat in stunned silence. He seems like he’d be a natural for a Westlake character, somehow.

            • I would like to think there’s a person for every vocation, and a vocation for every person, but life is never that simple. People often join religious orders for the wrong reasons, and great evil has come of that.

              One point of Brothers Keepers is that Benedict chose his path to forget a girl, then was forced to reexamine his choice when he met a (much better but deeply troubled) girl. He had chosen the right path almost by accident, but didn’t fully commit to it until he diverged from it.

              My dad was a seminarian for several years, training to be a priest. I was just looking at photos he took there, of men who clearly meant a lot to him (this was an integrated seminary, so some of these men were black).

              He reconsidered his path, and here I am to tell of it. Did he ever question that choice? Question answers itself.

  4. Speaking of my absent mind, I made a rather embarrassing boner up above, regarding Benedict’s boner for Eileen–in the book (and my earlier review that I should have reviewed myself before writing this) it’s made very clear he has not taken a vow of chastity. It was not required of him. Chastity is implicit in most real monastic vows, in which the novice monk agrees to embrace the rules of that life. But since Benedict is temporarily leaving that life in order to try and save it, his vows are temporarily on hold.

    He has taken a strict vow of obedience, but Brother Oliver gives him no orders relating to Eileen, other than to go talk to her about her father and the monastery (because he knows Benedict will do it anyway, so this way he’s not breaking his vow).

    There are no broken monastic vows in Brothers Keepers. Theses monks may sometimes bend their rules, but never break them. This is why The Felonious Monks, delicious a pun though it be, would never have worked as a title. Westlake is showing exceptional sensitivity for their beliefs, even while gently poking fun at their odd pursuits, which for him is a sincere form of affection.

    Truthfully, chastity, as practiced (or not) in various Christian religious orders, isn’t supposed to be about sexual sin. It’s about focus. If you’re thinking about sex, you’re not thinking about anything else, and certainly not God, or service to others. It’s the ultimate distraction, and many non-Christian religions have said the same. Chastity is a willing sacrifice one makes, not a way of avoiding spiritual cooties.

    Westlake’s own deep lifelong enthusiasm for concupiscence is well-known, but you know, he didn’t commit any armed robberies that we know of, and he wrote pretty convincingly about that lifestyle. You can’t write well about anyone you can’t understand, and on at least some level, respect.

  5. Anthony

    “But since Benedict is temporarily leaving that life in order to try and save it, his vows are temporarily on hold.”

    There’s no way for me to point this out without being a dick about it, but one of my pet peeves is “try and” instead of “try to.” It falls into the same conversational English folly as “supposably.”

    I have no way of knowing whether this would rank on Mr. Westlake’s list of grammatical irritation, but I will at least suggest it as explanation for my presumption.

  6. rinaldo302

    “Try and” has been in the language since the sixteenth century. It’s considered less formal than “try to,” and it won’t work in all constructions, but I’ve found no grounds for considering it a rank solecism. Fowler allows that it carries its own distinctive shade of meaning, and Garner calls it a casualism, and within that context unobjectionable.

    • Anthony

      I agree that it is idiomatic, and therefore generally unobjectionable in conversation. I find it jarring when I see it written down, where it inevitably just looks wrong. I suppose the comment section of a blog is conversational, but it is also written, and therefore – oh, now my head hurts.

      It’s what I get for being, as I mentioned, presumptuous.

      I’ll pipe down until the NEXT April Fool’s Day.

      • Westlake was a language maven, but he was also, of necessity, given to idiomatic dialogue, and sometimes even narration (like when the godlike third person narrator of Dancing Aztecs becomes a black man when he’s in Harlem).

        You should know what the rules are before you break them, but break them you must, or the rules rule you, and then good writing becomes impossible. Shakespeare made up nonexistent words just to finish a rhyme, but of course there wasn’t even a standard English dictionary back then.

        I’m very glad you chimed in (I’m always glad when you chime in). But as to my linguistic lapses–try and stop me, copper!


        • Anthony

          Fair enough.

          Just know. If you ever write “very unique,” or modify unique in any other unacceptable way, idiomatic or not, I will go Tiny Bulcher on you. Which I suppose means I will yell at you with the same effect as my yelling at the weather forecasters on TV who commit this grammatical sin.

          • Tiny is a renowned expert on proper etiquette, but I don’t remember him being such a stickler for grammar, as such. In fact, his own grammar is often atrocious. Feel free to bring this up with him sometime. Just not when I’m in the same room. (Or the same zip code. Let’s be safe and say the same climate zone.)

            English grammar, as you already know, is a problem with no solution. We do the best we can to hold the line, and I appreciate you manning the ramparts, but the castle still falls. Over and over.


            • Anthony

              I have a friend who objects to very pregnant on the basis that you either are or you are not. However, that one doesn’t bother me because the intended meaning is so clear that it qualifies as a near witticism (at least with respect to the first person who ever said it).

              • And ‘heavily pregnant’, which is what ‘very pregnant’ actually means, is not so much a witticism as a suicide note, if the imminently natal person in question sees you employing it.

                One of my peeves is redundant verbiage, to get back to your original nit. “To try to” bothers me. It grates on my ear. I don’t care if it’s correct or not. It doesn’t sound right. There are many instances of this superabundance of prepositions in English speech, and I pare them wherever possible. Yea, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no repetition, because I’m going to axe at least one of those buggers. King James can sue me, if he likes–it’s not what the original text said, anyway (more like ‘the darkest valley’). A translation of a translation is a lousy translation. Fine, I just flouted my own rule. I’m an English speaker. Comes natural. 😉

  7. Massimo Graziani

    Hi Fredfitch

    To answer your appeal for information on the Japanese illustrator:

    My Japanese is rudimentary (not for lack of trying), but with some web help, the illustrator’s name is 楢喜八, as shown in one of the images from the Official Westlake blog you link to. That stands for NARA Kihachi (family name first). It was a pen name used by 細坪宗利 (which might stand for HOSOTSUBO Munetoshi – or might not, Japanese people’s names being notoriously hard to decipher in some cases). Born in 1939. You can Google Image with the three Japanese characters of his penname 楢喜八 and see more of his artwork. Or this webpage has some of it (possibly for sale? But no prices)

    Two more points:
    – Brothers Keepers would also be my most likely favorite Westlake novel overall if I was forced to choose (with Dancing Aztecs). So you see: we disagree on the Ax but we still share some tastes.
    – To answer your query on translatability of the title:
    Brothers Keepers, whether as a children’s taunt or not, comes from the Bible (Cain: Am I my brother’s keeper?). The Westlake pun (converting Brother’s to Brothers, thereby turning a possessive genitive singular into a plural monastic order) is good fun in English but it would only work in a language 1) with a similar grammatical feature (“‘s” as a possessive phonetically indistinguishable from “s” as a plural marker) and 2) used in a culture that is sufficiently familiar with the Bible to understand the reference. It would not work in Italian.

    • I am certainly glad you showed up here, Massimo, though a bit late. Well, I’m not done yet. (I thought I had Coronavirus yesterday, but then I took an antihistimine. Damn allergies). Thanks so much for the info on this splendid artist–absolutely in my top ten of Westlake illustrators, and since there are hundreds (thousands?), no small feat.

      Brothers Keepers may well be my favorite humorous novel of his–one of my favorite novels ever–but I do love the darker starker stuff. Not all Westlake readers go for that. This is one of the conundrums of the man–he has rival fanbases, who only rarely bump up against each other–here is one of the places that happens.

      As you seem to know, the title also references the old jibe “Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers.” And the point is, those with true brothers are never truly losers. That, I believe, translates in all languages.

      • Massimo Graziani

        Interesting – I did not actually recall the “Finders Keepers” saying, I only saw in your previous comment that you mentioned a “children’s taunt”. I thought the biblical reference was too obvious for anything else to override it. But now that I know the actual saying, I am no longer so sure. Perhaps both sources contributed to the final result, adding some neat overtones.

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