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River Thieves: A Novel
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River Thieves: A Novel

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  1,523 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
In a masterly debut, the award-winning poet and short-fiction writer Michael Crummey crafts a haunting novel set on the rugged coast of Newfoundland at the turn of the nineteenth century. Told in elegant, sensual prose, RIVER THIEVES Thieves is a richly imagined, historically provocative story about love, loss, and the heartbreaking compromises -- both personal and politic ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published June 4th 2003 by Mariner Books (first published September 11th 2001)
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Michael Crummey draws a very rich portrayal of a little known struggle in history between the early settlers in newfoundland and the Beothuk Indians who were driven to extinction by being cut off from their resources and way of life. The characters are portrays as multilayered flawed individuals faced with difficult choices to make in order to survive in a harsh landscape.

The story moves back and forth in time to reveal more and more details on a pivotal event which has a profound effect on all
Susan Oleksiw
Jan 17, 2014 Susan Oleksiw rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
In the early 1800s the territory that will become Newfoundland is still populated by Beothuk, Micmac, and various Europeans engaged in hunting, trapping and fishing. The British governor hopes to establish cordial relations with the Beothuk, also called Red Indians for the red ochre they used to paint their bodies. Responding to his call to bring back a Beothuk who will learn English and serve as an intermediary, John Peyton and a band of men find a camp and capture a Beothuk woman, setting in m ...more
Dec 22, 2008 Shane rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fabulous story about a vanishing ( or already vanished breed?) of Indians in Newfoundland. The characters are strong and memorable, the terrain rough and unforgiving - a great place to situate a story.
Olga Kowalska (WielkiBuk)
Review coming soon. :)
In the eyes of the British Crown at the time, the island of Newfoundland wasn't considered a proper colony, but a sort of floating fishing station and training ground for naval recruits, a country that existed only during the summer months. Most of the planters and fishermen returned to England for the winter, as did the governor himself.

River Thieves is a fictional imagining of a real historic time that author Michael Crummey populated with real people (those on the side whose stories have su
Mary Billinghurst
I reread this novel for a presentation I have volunteered to do at the library. Honestly, I rarely reread books anymore since I have so many new ones I want to get through, but I am very glad I picked up River Thieves again. It is very good.

I love Crummey's narrative technique in this book. He outlines the key event of the plot (the capture of a Beothuk woman) at the very beginning, and then he returns to this moment many times as the story develops. Each time, we learn more details. It is as if
Gerry Burnie
Gerry B's Book Reviews -

My bio reads in part: Canada has a rich and colourful history that for the most part is waiting to be discovered, and River Thieves by Michael Crummey [Anchor Canada, 2009] is a case on point.

The Beothuk (pronounced “beo-thuk”) people of Newfoundland, a.k.a. “The Red Indians” because of the red ochre they smeared on their bodies, are truly one of the most fascinating and mysterious aspects of it. They are referred to as a “population isolate”
Jun 12, 2010 Ollie rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Newfies, people interested in Canada's history, misery guts
Recommended to Ollie by: bookclub
I never in a million years would have picked up this book if it hadn't been for my book club. And that's a sad thing to realise after finishing a very satisfying read. It turns out that Michael Crummey is a respected poet and prose writer in Canada, winning many awards with River Thieves as well as with his poetry collections. I can see why.

Set in the early part of the 1800s in Newfoundland (where Crummey is from), River Thieves is a sombre historical novel that charts the conflicts and misunder
I LOVED Michael Crummy's second novel, The Wreckage. I had River Thieves for months before starting it, for fear of being disappointed. I wasn't ready until Galore was published. As it turns out, I was disappointed, which is not to say River Thieves is not a very good book. It's just very different from The Wreckage. It is Michael Crummy's first novel. What disappointed me was that I had to really work to get into the book, unlike the Wreckage which had me hooked right from the beginning. That s ...more
May 01, 2012 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I loved how Crummey told this story, moving around in time to weave a plot with surprises. In the process, several characters became more nuanced, and my assumptions disproved. He also told the story with continual reminders to the senses of this Newfoundland world: the cold, the ice, the mud, the flickering candles at night, the annoyance of flies in the summer, the smell of the chamber pot. I feel very lucky to have read this book. Shortly after finishing his newer book Galore, I realized I ha ...more
Apr 17, 2015 Evi rated it really liked it
Michael Crummey is becoming one of my favorite authors. You cannot skip willy nilly through the pages of his books. Every paragraph will grab you and make you want to keep turning pages.

The story surrounds a group of European settlers in the early 19th century (the Peytons). The reader following their family, their housekeeper, Cassie, (who carries her own personal tragedy) and the men who manage fishing and trapping concerns on the shore of Newfoundland.

It's a brutal, physically punishing life
Nov 24, 2016 Carla rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm bound and determined to read all of Michael Crummey's books. This didn't disappoint. The Beothuk, or Red Indians, meet European settlers in Newfoundland. There is much misunderstandings, violence, and the cruelty of both peoples. Fishing and hunting rights are still in contention to this day. The depiction of the Newfoundland landscape and people are captured by Crummey, a native Newfoundlander brilliantly.
Angie Scar
Nov 18, 2014 Angie Scar rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a tendency to absorb books quickly. I frequently will start and finish a book in a day. Not so with Crummey. I sip his writing like a robust and soothing red. Phenomenal.
Jan 22, 2017 Debbie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is exceptionally good. I loved the author's descriptive language as well as the 'historical' and local sayings and terms. The story pulled me in and I didn't want to come up for air. The characters are painfully real and human, with all of our messy human choices and flaws. It is a mesmerizing book and I want to read it again just to savor the writing and characters.
David Smith
Dec 31, 2016 David Smith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Newfoundland punches way above its weight in the area of fine writers. Michael Crummey is up there with the best of them. Found this book on a remainders table at an Exclusive Book sale - whoever put it there had not likely read it. I would have a hard time turning down any book coming my way knowing it had been written on the rock. River Thieves - I felt the cold as I read it under the sunshine of a southern summer.
Oct 01, 2013 Sandie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The year is 1810 and life in Newfoundland is not easy. It is populated by the fishermen and trappers who have settled there, and by the native Americans whose land it was before they came. One of the most prominent families are the Peytons. Peyton Senior has trapped and fished for many years. He left his family life in England behind to make a life in this new country. His son, John, is now grown and taking over the family businesses. They also have a housekeeper, Cassie, who came as John's tuto ...more
Jay Warner
Jan 11, 2010 Jay Warner rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Michael Crummey hails from Nova Scotia, where the book is set, so its no wonder he can describe in such intimate detail the little rivers and creeks, necks and beaches, hills, and valleys. I found myself totally immersed in the world that was St. John in the early 1800s, the lives of the trappers and the interference of the English. Crummey brought the time period to life in ways I could never get from a history book. He also takes a very daring approach to historical fiction in his depictin of ...more
Elizabeth Barter
Mar 02, 2013 Elizabeth Barter rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are times when reading the 'River Thieves', I feel like I'm an observer of a movie or a play.Mr.Crummey is keeping me, as his reader, at a distance, then he brings a character like Mary or Cassie into the scene.When they come into the frame,suddenly I'm looking into the intimate world of a young woman.I found the men in this novel distant, but it works for the setting.This is the beginning of the 19th century on the North Coast of Newfoundland,the landscape is dark and cold, it wasn't surp ...more
Feb 08, 2016 Brian rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I'm not sure this is Crummey's finest writing from the standpoint of his prose. I think he handles transitions and juxtaposition with greater brilliance in later novels, but in River Thieves he tackles tragedy in a story where most would achieve "tragic" at best. No one would disagree that the fate of the Beothuk during the North American colonial expansion is an international scandal, an appalling abuse of power and an uncommon dearth of sensitivity and common sense. That's tragic. But by writi ...more
This is the type of Canadian book I like to read. I find that we are often represented in fiction as we like to see ourselves - on the polite and cheery side, even in depressing circumstances. This book hangs a lantern on a dark spot in Canadian history.

I am directly related to settlers who found native rifle pits on their land claim. My ancestral home is not far from Frog Lake. These things are not terribly far in the past in Canada - less than a hundred years in some places. European- and Asia
Oct 06, 2016 Jacquelyn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a beautiful book. You can really tell that the author is a poet first - the language is exquisite. I also love that none of the characters are two-dimensional. All of the characters are imbued with a complexity that is rare in a lot of fiction, modern or otherwise. I, like Mr. Crummey, have roots in Buchans. (I was born there, but my family moved when I was just a baby. I visited often while growing up, as my grandparents and uncle still lived there.) It is wonderful to read a story set in ...more
Oct 09, 2016 Ryan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadiana
This is the first book I've read by Michael Crummey and I very much enjoyed it. I liked his prose and his characters, who were more complex than they first seemed. I don't think you could label anyone as a "good" or "bad" character with absolute certainty. One character is described as being both "infuriating" and "invaluable" and I think that could be said of others too.

I also liked how Crummey would briefly allude to past events in the characters' lives, then provide more detail in the form of
Aug 08, 2011 Kay rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I kept at this one even though I never really got into it - mainly because I wanted to figure out why it didn't do anything for me. In the end, I think there was no life in the story or the writing. It reminded me of a novel about a group stranded off of Baffin Island (I cannot remember the title.. but I can picture the cover) so maybe there is a certain approach to this kind of story. For the life of me, I can't picture the author getting excited to work on this or enjoying it at all and that's ...more
Ismaa Khan
My expectations were very different when I started the book, than what I got. I was expecting more about the Beothuck Indians than this book provides. Despite that I enjoyed the plot, the characters and the eloquently written description of life in Newfoundland in the early 19th century.

Michael Crummey is a native of Newfoundland and a good story teller. This book is part fiction and part history, although I found it a bit slow moving, I did gain an insight into the tough lives of the settlers
Philippe Isler
Mar 09, 2016 Philippe Isler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Although, it's his first novel, it's the third of his books that I have read. It is just as rich a tapestry of characters and history, and the natural environment in which the two exist and unfold as the other two. In some ways it is almost Dickensian in its examination of characters' motivations and actions as being embedded in time and place, history and social relations, as well as personal choice. At the same time, there are ways in which it reminds me of reading Romantic poets. That he is a ...more
Barbara Sibbald
I'm a big fan of Michael Crummy's later novel, Galore, so I had high expectations for River Thieves and I was not disappointed. The story is masterfully told; the characters are incredibly vivid and believable as they struggle in the harsh climate of northern Newfoundland in the early 19th century. Of particular note is the last chapter or so, which contains some stunning metaphors and some of the finest writing I've ever read. One scene that sticks in my mind is when Peyton returns Buchan's not ...more
Aug 05, 2012 Joyce rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed reading this--found the subject matter SO interesting, and his account really makes you feel like you know the time & place better. I read Galore a while ago, and it seems to me he's really polished his style since this first novel, but I still liked it. Although I was a bit confused by the psychological development of some of the characters. I liked the way he went back and forth in time, shuffled the pages of history, and sometimes covered the same time only from a differe ...more
Mid-winter is not the best time to read a novel set in Newfoundland with its rather desolate landscape and unforgiving winters. 2015 (when I started River Thieves) was my year for reading a preponderance of books dealing with the humanity's inability to live peaceably. Set in the early 1800s, this account of the some of the factors that led to the near extinction of the indigenous Beothuk inhabitants of Newfoundland is a bleak story. However, it is so well written that I didn't mind not really l ...more
Jan 11, 2008 Donna rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canlit, giller-prize
Quite interesting tale about the relations between the European settlers and
the Beothuk Indians in Newfoundland at the turn of the 19th century. I
liked Crummey's writing, but the structure of the story left me puzzled.
Instead of telling the story straight out, the author released the truth in
small snippets of information told as remembrances of the individual
characters. To me, this chopped everything up so much that it barely held
my interest. Crummey was also unsuccessful at making me care about
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Born in Buchans, Newfoundland, Crummey grew up there and in Wabush, Labrador, where he moved with his family in the late 1970s. He went to university with no idea what to do with his life and, to make matters worse, started writing poems in his first year. Just before graduating with a BA in English he won the Gregory Power Poetry Award. First prize was three hundred dollars (big bucks back in 198 ...more
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