"Powerful. . . . Paul Howarth brings early Australia to life, bloody warts and all, in an epic tale of murder, revenge, and colonial oppression, with very little room for redemption. The story and his words will stay with you, long after you have finished the book.” — New York Review of Books
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.
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.
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.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Colonial Australia was something like the Wild West: expansive, untamed landscapes, a prevailing spirit of adventure, and genocidal racism that all but wiped out indigenous populations. Only Killers and Thieves opens in the midst of a yearlong drought, centering on two teenage boys dealing with the murder of their rancher father and the allegations against an Aboriginal man pegged as the killer. With its steely eye, casual horrors, and crackling language, Paul Howarth’s breathtaking debut novel is hard to put down.
A quest for frontier justice drives the events of Howarth's devastating and impressive debut, set in the Australian outback in 1885. Sixteen-year-old Billy McBride and his 14-year-old brother, Tommy, are orphaned when, they believe, their rancher father's disgruntled aboriginal stockman guns down their parents and younger sister in cold blood. Enlisting the help of neighboring rancher John Sullivan (with whom their father had a prickly relationship) and Edmund Noone, an inspector with the Native Mounted Police, the boys embark on a manhunt. Things quickly go awry when their confederates use evidence Billy fabricated as a pretext to slaughter the alleged culprit's entire tribe. This atrocity is emblematic of the novel's theme concerning the strained relations between white settlers and the natives whom they have displaced from their lands. Howarth skillfully uses the fraying relationship between the two brothers Billy embraces vigilantism with vengeful zeal, while Tommy is revolted by both the carnage and its effect on his brother to illustrate the moral issues at the heart of his story. The narrative is empowered further by his searing descriptions of the outback, a drought-ridden landscape of desiccation and death that provides a backdrop as bleak and merciless as the characters who move against it.
Only killed and thieves
A page turner