Two brothers are exposed to the brutal realities of life and the seductive cruelty of power in this riveting debut novel--a story of savagery and race, injustice and honor, set in the untamed frontier of 1880s Australia--reminiscent of Philipp Meyer's The Son and the novels of Cormac McCarthy.Read more...
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Two brothers are exposed to the brutal realities of life and the seductive cruelty of power in this riveting debut novel--a story of savagery and race, injustice and honor, set in the untamed frontier of 1880s Australia--reminiscent of Philipp Meyer's The Son and the novels of Cormac McCarthy.
An epic tale of revenge and survival, Only Killers and Thieves is a gripping and utterly transporting debut, bringing to vivid life a colonial Australia that bears a striking resemblance to the American Wild West in its formative years.
It is 1885, and a crippling drought threatens to ruin the McBride family. Their land is parched, their cattle starving. When the rain finally comes, it is a miracle that renews their hope for survival. But returning home from an afternoon swimming at a remote waterhole filled by the downpour, fourteen-year-old Tommy and sixteen-year-old Billy meet with a shocking tragedy.
Thirsting for vengeance against the man they believe has wronged them--their former Aboriginal stockman--the distraught brothers turn to the ruthless and cunning John Sullivan, the wealthiest landowner in the region and their father's former employer. Sullivan gathers a posse led by the dangerous and fascinating Inspector Edmund Noone and his Queensland Native Police, an infamous arm of British colonial power charged with the "dispersal" of indigenous Australians to "protect" white settler rights. As they ride across the barren outback in pursuit, their harsh and horrifying journey will have a devastating impact on Tommy, tormenting him for the rest of his life--and will hold enduring consequences for a young country struggling to come into its own.
Recreating a period of Australian and British history as evocative and violent as the American frontier era, Only Killers and Thieves is an unforgettable story of family, guilt, empire, race, manhood, and faith that combines the insightfulness of Philipp Meyer's The Son, the atmospheric beauty of Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist, and the raw storytelling power of Ian McGuire's The North Water.
Vengeance in the outback
The story of a frontier family’s murder by a tribe of native peoples and the ensuing quest for vengeance has been written before. It’s a staple of many Western novels. What sets Only Killers and Thieves apart is its locale: not the late 19th-century American West but the untamed wilderness of the Australian outback.
The novel begins innocently enough, with teen brothers Billy and Tommy McBride on a hunting expedition. Debut novelist Paul Howarth entrenches readers in the scene and its grim mood from the opening sentence: “They stalked the ruined scrubland, searching for something to kill.” Later, when the boys discover their parents slain and their young sister, Mary, barely clinging to life, they must swallow their father’s pride and seek help from his nemesis, a deeply racist land baron called John Sullivan.
While Sullivan’s doctor and wife tend to Mary, the teens accompany Sullivan and a posse of Native Queensland police to rout the aboriginal Kurrong tribe believed to be responsible for the McBride murders. Consumed by hate and a lust for revenge, Billy embraces Sullivan’s view of superiority over the land’s native inhabitants, even as the more sensitive Tommy questions everything.
Only Killers and Thieves is brutally violent and shocking, from its depiction of racial bias to its savage realism, but at its heart, it is a coming-of-age novel. Howarth includes many parallels to the novel’s Old West counterparts: a family trying to tame the land and create a livelihood for themselves amid a harsh, unforgiving climate; a rival landowner who threatens to control them at every turn; and the constant threat of attack by the region’s indigenous population. Howarth manages to infuse the old tropes with a depth of emotion and moral complication that will stay with readers long after closing the book.