Only Killers and Thieves

The McBride brothers, Billy and Tommy, live with their parents and younger sister on a cattle ranch in Queensland, Australia. It hasn't rained for more than a year, the cows are dying and there's hardly any food left in the house. Then, it rains, a blessing for everyone--until tragedy strikes the homestead, a scenario that leaves the brothers turning to the one man their father has always distrusted and disliked, John Sullivan, the local land baron.

Set in 1885, Paul Howarth's debut novel Only Killers and Thieves is the complex story of the McBride brothers, both on the verge of manhood. Overnight they must grow into men when they witness the tragedy, and then navigate its aftermath. Howarth tells the story primarily from the perspective of Tommy, the younger brother, who struggles with doing what he knows is right or doing what is expected of him by his brother and the older men they fall in with. The racial tension between the Aboriginal peoples and the white settlers who have claimed the land for their own purposes is visceral. The imagery the author uses is both brutal and beautiful. Howarth pulls no punches in describing the white settlers' cruelty toward Indigenous peoples--reminiscent of early American pioneers and their dealings with Native Americans. The effects of Tommy's actions haunt him long after the deeds are done, just as this story lingers in the mind long after the book is closed. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

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