Bellingham journalist Marcus Brotherton is perhaps best known for his nonfiction work chronicling the Band of Brothers, an elite cadre of paratroopers who parachuted into Normandy during World War II and fought throughout Europe. But last fall Brotherton’s first novel was published, and before I let any more time pass by, I’d like to call your attention to “Feast for Thieves.”
Rowdy Slater, the lead character in this novel, was very loosely patterned after Skinny Sisk, one of the real-life members of the Band of Brothers, an incorrigible fighter who became a man of the cloth after the war.
This fictional story opens in 1946 in the middle of a bank robbery in Cut Eye, Texas. Rowdy, unable to find employment after the war, is sorely in need of money (as later developments in the novel will detail), so he has reluctantly agreed to participate in this scheme masterminded by Crazy Ake, a former cellmate of his (that backstory, too, is eventually explained).
The holdup itself is a success, but when the getaway goes awry, the bank robbers split up. In a near death experience during his time on the lam, Rowdy has a comeuppance with his conscience and decides to return the money.
He goes back to the Sheriff of Cut Eye, and without confessing to the crime, turns the loot over. Sheriff Barker is savvy to Rowdy’s poor excuse, but does a little background sleuthing on him and learns of his distinguished career as a soldier. He dreads the potential small town political fallout that could come from handling Rowdy’s case in the conventional manner.
So he proposes something entirely unconventional. Cut Eye has a big law and order problem and the Sheriff believes that if more of the good folk of Cut Eye showed up in church every Sunday and got themselves a little religion, the town would be better off. But in a remote, dusty town like Cut Eye, it has been hard to retain a minister.
So the Sheriff, who also serves as deacon at the local church, gives Rowdy a choice. He can opt for a long, long time behind bars – or he can serve as the pastor of the church for the year, repair the church (which is in bad physical shape due to years of neglect), rebuild the congregation and during that time get all his meals for free at the local café.
Rowdy doesn’t pretend to know the first thing about preaching, but the prospect of any kind of job and guaranteed food suits him far better than the alternative.
What follows is a romp through unusual sermons, unlikely proselytizing, dirty politics and crazy crimes. The author incorporates a little romance and a bit of tragedy into the tale as well as the revelation of some deep secrets.
Much of this tale has a down-home flavor, but the author doesn’t flinch from some darker story lines.
“Feast for Thieves” serves up both entertainment and plenty of food for thought.
“Feast for Thieves”
The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org