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Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth. February 6, 2018. Harper, 325 p. ISBN: 9780062690968.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

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.

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Reviews

Booklist (December 1, 2017 (Vol. 114, No. 7))
This debut novel is set in Australia in the mid-1880s. A lengthy drought is likely to spell disaster for the McBride family’s cattle ranch, but, just when the situation seems hopeless, rain comes—three solid days of it. It should be a time of great joy for the McBride sons—16-year-old Billy and 14-year-old Tommy—but, instead, with the rain comes tragedy: returning home one day, the boys find their parents have been murdered. Engulfed by rage, they plead with a rival cattle farmer to help them find the people responsible. But how far are the boys willing to go to get revenge? Rich in character and period atmosphere, this effective blend of family saga and historical mystery will please fans of Jeffrey Archer and Wilbur Smith.

Kirkus Reviews starred (December 1, 2017)
Howarth’s impressive debut is a Wild West saga transported to 19th-century Queensland, Australia. Two brothers come of age during a bloody wilderness manhunt against the background of a shameful era in Australia’s racial history.Brothers Tommy and Billy are the sons of rancher Ned McBride, who’s barely surviving under the thumb of land baron John Sullivan. Sullivan’s local rule is aided by his association with Inspector Edmund Noone, a leader of the Native Mounted Police, which carried out the genocide of Australia’s indigenous people. Racial tensions escalate after the two brothers witness a lynching, and soon afterward they find their parents murdered—apparently by their aboriginal stockman Joseph, whose gun is found nearby. They have no choice but to join forces with Noone and Sullivan, who set out to take revenge on Joseph—or on any other tribal people they encounter on the hunt for him. The story deals unflinchingly with the brutality of Australian rule, and the true circumstances of the parents’ murders are ultimately revealed. But the heart of the story is the complicated relationship between the brothers, as Tommy’s developing conscience threatens his bond with the older Billy, who has committed to Sullivan’s cause. One turning point for Tommy is his attachment to an aboriginal woman whose family has been slaughtered by their posse. While this book has a historical point to make, it also works as a suspenseful mystery and a resonant bildungsroman.

About the Author

Paul Howarth was born and grew up in Great Britain before moving to Melbourne in his late twenties. He lived in Australia for more than six years, gained dual citizenship in 2012, and now lives in Norwich, United Kingdom, with his family.

In 2015, he received a master’s degree from the University of East Anglia’s creative writing program, the most prestigious course of its kind in the UK, where he was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship.

Around the Web

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