Oregon, 1851. Eli and Charlie Sisters, notorious professional killers, are on their way to California to kill a man named Hermann Kermit Warm. On the way, the brothers have a series of unsettling experiences in the landscape of Gold Rush America. And they bicker a lot. Arriving in California, and discover that Warm has invented a magical formula, which could make all of them very rich. What happens next is utterly gripping, strange and sad....
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This book is not for everyone, definitely not for me. When I read some of the numerous positive reviews, I thought they were meant ironically, but unfortunately not. Regardless of the shortcomings of the story, William Hope does an incredible job in narrating it. His voice gives so much color and character to the story, it is a real treat to listen to him.
As far as the plot is concerned – and there is not much of it – it is quickly told. 2 psychopathic brothers, Charlie and Eli Sisters, work as professional killers for the Commodore, a frontier baron (early version of a mobster boss) in Oregon. There latest assignment is to hunt down and kill Herman Kermit Warm, a prospector, who invented a miracle chemistry for the tracing of gold. On their odyssey to Warm’s claim in California Charley and Eli stumble into numerous absurd adventures and mishaps, including a dead Indian, a constantly crying prospector, a variety of whores, a witch (for real), a giant bear, a lot of other bandits, prospectors and men, who just ask for getting killed.
Patrick DeWitt did not really manage to tie these events into an ongoing story, the story is simply a sequence of unrelated mishaps and adventures. There are some absurd and hilarious twists to the story, but overall the narrative is flat and without any tension. You could probably skip several pages now and then and you would not even realize it.
The language Patrick DeWitt chose, sounded to me like the desperate attempt of an outdated art class teacher to give lessons in refined prose. At first I thought this was supposed to be funny - a ruthless uneducated killer speaking like that - but I later understood that this was not the case, it was intended to be the English of the educated class of that era. I did not like it and to me it simply sounded out of place.
To really like the book, you need a high tolerance level for senseless violence and brutality. It is hard for me to see the funny side of shooting somebody’s head of and stepping onto his skull and crush it like a melon. In some reviews these “humorous events” are regarded as highly entertaining, I thought it was closer to disgusting.
In general I could not detect any of the human implications of the “Wild West”, some of the reviews speak of nor could I work up some empathy for the 2 killers. It was a disappointing read and I think, this book does not do the people of that time any justice. According to this story the majority were either brainless imbeciles or unscrupulous maniacs.