Only Killers and Thieves, by Paul Howarth
Published by Harper, 6th February 2018
Genres: Historical fiction, westerns, Australia, coming of age, mystery
On the unforgiving Australian frontier in 1885, the McBride family are barely surviving on their relatively small piece of land. A crippling drought is threatening their livestock, their main source of income. Suddenly, tragedy strikes and the two brothers, Tommy and Billy, are left to fend for themselves and make their own way in the world.
In this harsh environment, they have to form their own opinions of what happened to their family, who to trust and what is the right thing to do. Whatever they decide will ultimately stay with them forever.
I picked this book up as a “blind date with a book” at my local independent bookshop, Bookpoint Dunoon. I loved this idea and the hints for this book were so intriguing:
Adventure. Historical fiction. Australia. Two brothers, left orphaned. The pursuit of justice – but at what cost? A tour de force.
I really enjoyed this book! Although I was surprised that the lead-up to the tragic event was quite long. Given that this event sets in motion everything else in the story, I expected it to happen early on in the narrative, but it didn’t. I kept expecting it to happen, which I guess added to the suspense.
I really enjoyed the way the story was written and the characters that Howarth created. As intended, it is difficult to know who to trust, who has the boys’ best interests in mind or simply their own agenda. But I definitely did not trust Sullivan.
As a coming of age story, it was spot on. It is primarily Tommy, the younger brother, who goes through many internal struggles and indecision throughout the story. He battles to reconcile the way the aboriginal population is despised, feared and bedevilled by his fellow white settlers, with the relationship he had with certain black members of his father’s staff. He has known Arthur, in particular, his whole life, worked alongside him and trusted him implicitly, because his father did.
Who are really the killers and thieves alluded to in the title?
“Macintyre had judged it correctly, but he’d judged the wrong side. ‘They’ve the devil in them, Tommy, they’re naught but killers and thieves’.”
Although the subject matter surrounding the conflict between the white settlers and the Australian aborigines was very difficult to read about, I believe that it is important to illustrate these events in fiction. Obviously, I knew that there was a lot of violence and horrors committed, but I did not know any details so it was very interesting to me to read about one situation in particular. I also did not know about the Native Mounted Police, a branch of the Australian police force which was made up of black aborigines who hunted down and killed other aborigines.
A really great thought-provoking read which I might not necessarily have purchased, so I am really happy with my first ever blind date with a book.
My rating: 4/5