Only Killers and Thieves is a powerful debut. 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.
The heart of the novel is an expedition deep into the outback that’s ostensibly a search for the murderer but is in fact a grotesque hunt for aborigines ... Like every Western, Howarth’s spotlights how arbitrary frontier justice can be. But he also asks: How much less arbitrary is a purportedly civilized society ... As long as people are inclined to scapegoat, there’ll be people who’ll use the law to legitimize it.
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.