Briefly, it’s the story of Charlie and Eli Sisters, two brothers hired to murder a man who has somehow run afoul of their employer, The Commodore. Charlie and Eli set out from Oregon City, bound for the gold fields of California. It’s around 1850, and so the trek takes them across a mostly untamed landscape, where they encounter a number of strange and brutish characters. Most of the encounters end in violence in some form or other. Charles and Eli are being paid to kill only one particular man, but they end up killing quite a few more along the way. Of the two, only the melancholy Eli is much troubled by the carnage. But as the novel unfolds you realize both brothers have reasons for the way they are.
Usually in a book like this you expect to see some anachronisms in character and dialog in the service of comedy, but Patrick deWitt has done his research and everything about this novel rings true — and that’s the best similarity to Portis’ True Grit. Unlike Portis, deWitt has imbued his book with occasional dashes of the magical and surreal, and a certain unreliability in the narrator that makes each short chapter a revelation and a surprise.
I don’t know if that last sentence makes any sense at all, but what the hell? I’ll call this Western noir with more than a dash of humor and poetry. It’s a pretty good novel. I say, check it out.