Friday, February 10, 2012

Friday Freebie: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop, and The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax

Congratulations to Carolyn Elias, the winner of last week's Friday Freebie, The Evening Hour by Carter Sickels.

This week, my pen is really quivering with excitement because I'm giving away not one, not two, not even two-and-a-half, but THREE books to one lucky winner: The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, Obedience by Jacqueline Yallop, and The Detour by Andromeda Romano-Lax.  All share at least three traits in common: they're novels set in the past (the 1800s Gold Rush and World War II), they're chock-full of first-rate writing, and they're perched high atop my personal to-be-read list (aka Mount NeverRest).

The Sisters Brothers comes out in a gorgeous new paperback edition from Ecco on Valentine's Day, which makes it something like the publisher's love letter to readers.  By all accounts, there's a lot to love about this picaresque Western which reminded some reviewers of True Grit, and others of Pulp Fiction.  The jacket copy: Hermann Kermit Warm is going to die.  The enigmatic and powerful man known only as the Commodore has ordered it, and his henchmen, Eli and Charlie Sisters, will make sure of it.  Though Eli doesn't share his brother's appetite for whiskey and killing, he's never known anything else.  But their prey isn't an easy mark, and on the road from Oregon City to Warm's gold-mining claim outside Sacramento, Eli begins to question what he does for a living--and whom he does it for.  The opening paragraph:
I was sitting outside the Commodore’s mansion, waiting for my brother Charlie to come out with news of the job. It was threatening to snow and I was cold and for want of something to do I studied Charlie’s new horse, Nimble. My new horse was called Tub. We did not believe in naming horses but they were given to us as partial payment for the last job with the names intact, so that was that. Our unnamed previous horses had been immolated, so it was not as though we did not need these new ones but I felt we should have been given money to purchase horses of our own choosing, horses without histories and habits and names they expected to be addressed by. I was very fond of my previous horse and lately had been experiencing visions while I slept of his death, his kicking, burning legs, his hot-popping eyeballs. He could cover sixty miles in a day like a gust of wind and I never laid a hand on him except to stroke him or clean him, and I tried not to think of him burning up in that barn but if the vision arrived uninvited how was I to guard against it? Tub was a healthy enough animal but would have been better suited to some other, less ambitious owner. He was portly and low-backed and could not travel more than fifty miles in a day. I was often forced to whip him, which some men do not mind doing and which in fact some enjoy doing, but which I did not like to do; and afterward he, Tub, believed me cruel and thought to himself, Sad life, sad life.

I've already mentioned my readerly anticipation of Obedience earlier at the blog, but here's Hilary Mantel (author of Wolf Hall) to tell you why you'll want to get this book about a nun in Nazi-occupied France in your hands pronto: "An intensely imagined novel about one of the defining questions of the century just past: where and how we choose to draw the line between innocence and guilt, ignorance and complicity.  Obedience also asks us to consider what ghastly harm is committed in the name of love.  It's rare to find a book that is seemingly so simple, but is really ambiguous and thought-provoking."  The novel came out from Penguin at the end of January and, unless I'm mistaken, book clubs are already lining up to discuss what Stewart O'Nan (Emily, Alone) calls "the best kind of Occupation romance: forbidden, tortured and indelible."  Here's the opening paragraph:
Mother Catherine knew the devil. He was twisted and dwarfish; his clawed hands were gnarled. His neck was short and his legs bowed. He had a hump on his back, heavy like a sack of walnuts. He was crafty, she knew that; she had heard how cunning he could be. But surely he could never stretch over five shelves of jars, pickles and conserves to take down the coffee and tempt her nuns?

Rounding out the Friday Freebie trio, Andromeda Romano-Lax's The Detour is another kind of romance: this time between a man and a statue--or, at least, his devotion to collecting it for the Fuhrer.  Here's the jacket copy from the publisher (Soho Press):
Ernst Vogler is twenty-six years old in 1938 when he is sent to Rome by his employer—the Third Reich's Sonderprojekte, which is collecting the great art of Europe and bringing it to Germany for the Führer. Vogler is to collect a famous Classical Roman marble statue, The Discus Thrower, and get it to the German border, where it will be turned over to Gestapo custody. It is a simple, three-day job. Things start to go wrong almost immediately. The Italian twin brothers who have been hired to escort Vogler to the border seem to have priorities besides the task at hand—wild romances, perhaps even criminal jobs on the side—and Vogler quickly loses control of the assignment. The twins set off on a dangerous detour and Vogler realizes he will be lucky to escape this venture with his life, let alone his job. With nothing left to lose, the young German gives himself up to the Italian adventure, to the surprising love and inevitable losses along the way.
The Detour will also be released on Valentine's Day and I'm pretty sure you'll heart the writing in this novel.  Here's the opening paragraph as proof:
The russet bloom on the vineyards ahead, the yellowleafed oaks, a hint of truffles fattening in moldy obscurity underfoot—none of it is truly familiar, because I first came here not only in a different season, but as a different man. Yet the smell of autumn anywhere is for me the smell of memory, and I am preoccupied as my feet guide me through the woods and fields up toward the old Piedmontese villa.
(If you haven't already done so, be sure to check out Romano-Lax's contribution to the My First Time series here at The Quivering Pen: "My First Time Hearing Fiction's Call")

If you'd like a chance at winning a copy of all three of these novels, all you have to do is answer this question:

What is your favorite historical novel?  (For the purposes of this poll, I'll broadly define "historical novel" as one which is set before the author's lifetime.)

Email your answer to

Put FRIDAY FREEBIE in the e-mail subject line.  One entry per person, please.  Please e-mail me the answer, rather than posting it in the comments section.  Despite its name, the Friday Freebie runs all week long and remains open to entries until midnight on Feb. 16--at which time I'll draw the winning name.  I'll announce the lucky reader on Feb. 17.  If you'd like to join the mailing list for the once-a-week Quivering Pen newsletter, simply add the words "Sign me up for the newsletter" in the body of your email.  Your email address and other personal information will never be sold or given to a third party (except in those instances where the publisher requires a mailing address for sending Friday Freebie winners copies of the book).

Want to double your odds of winning?  Get an extra entry in the contest by posting a link to this webpage on your Facebook wall or by tweeting it on Twitter.  Once you've done either or both of those, send me an additional e-mail saying "I've shared" and I'll put your name in the hat twice.


  1. I've just finished reading the brilliant 'Sisters Brothers' and loved it. It reminded me of 'No Country for Old Men' with an element of 'Pulp Fiction' running through it. Has to be one of my favourite books ever and also doubles up as my entry into this giveaway (cheeky grin!)

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  2. Take this book for what it is: entertainment. But also, think about what deWitt is trying to convey through the questions he proposes. It might just be me, but this novel is far more than just "fiction".

  3. It is one of those books that you look forward to picking up and have trouble putting down. Loved this novel right through to the very last syllable.

  4. The Sisters Brothers is an original and inventive novel. Its humor flows easily, without compromising the novel's foreboding darkness and meditation on life and self. This is the old west re imagined and it's a thoroughly entertaining ride.

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