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River Thieves

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  2,005 ratings  ·  147 reviews
River Thieves is a beautifully written and compelling novel that breathes life into the pivotal events which shaped relations between the Beothuk Indians of Newfoundland and European settlers. Following a series of expeditions made under the order of the British Crown, the reader witnesses the tragic fallout from these missions as the Beothuk vanish and the web of secrets ...more
Paperback, 372 pages
Published June 1st 2003 by Canongate Books (first published September 11th 2001)
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Deborah The two Indians are shot by settlers who want revenge for the theft and destruction of their property, not by the British military. The governor has…moreThe two Indians are shot by settlers who want revenge for the theft and destruction of their property, not by the British military. The governor has given John Senior permission to go after reparations but they have been given strict orders that this is to be in the form of property only and that the King still hopes to live peacefully with the Indians. That is why the governor sends Buchan to investigate and bring the murderers to justice.(less)

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Average rating 3.88  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,005 ratings  ·  147 reviews

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Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: rt-2016
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 08, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 22, 2008 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)
Jun 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
Review coming soon. :)
Apr 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Crummy's first novel is set in Newfoundland in 1810, when Captain David Buchan arrives with orders from the English king to make contact with Beothuk, also known as the Red Indians because of the ochre they smear on their skins. The local settlers are less than enthusiastic; the Beothuk are reclusive, they claim, moving about with the seasons, and the evidence of their presence is usually in the form of stolen goods or killings. Nevertheless, John Peyton agrees to recruit a few of his fellow tra ...more
Jay Warner
Jan 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Mary Billinghurst
Feb 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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 rated it really liked it
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
May 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jacquie Harnett
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reading-again
I read this book some years ago and it has been calling me to read it again. I was not disappointed. The book was wonderful from beginning to end. Michael Crummy is so good at creating an atmosphere that just pulls me in and holds me. The characters are believeable - ordinary and extrordinary at the same time. Newfundland in the 1800's comes to life and light. Again, I loved it.
Angie Scar
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Review: by Michael Crummey. 3.5★'s

Michael Crummey is a respected poet and prose writer in Canada. His book was interesting and educating when it comes to the late 1700’s in Newfoundland. It was a slow pace book with so much background that took some time reading. It was set at a time when the lives of trappers, the interference of the English and the Red Indians territory was the focus of Newfoundland. Michael Crummey seemed to know a lot of history of Newfoundland and his writing was descripti
Dec 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
Michael Crummey sets River Thieves during 1819 and 1820 in the Newfoundland interior. Crummey explores macroscopic themes of racism, genocide, classism, and wilderness survival by focusing microscopically on a three person household of an elderly father, his mid-20s son, and their housekeeper. Crummey writes with moral nuance about the actions and motives of each of his three main characters, as well as the young Scottish naval captain and the captive Beothuk young woman brought into the househo ...more
Erin Moxam
Aug 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book, not because it's uplifting in any way, but it's interesting and well written. River Thieves is about a family, of sorts, in Newfoundland around the turn of the 19th century and their connection to the last Beothuk - the native people of Newfoundland that were systematically wiped (purposely or not) out by European settlers. That fact is real enough, and though this is a work of fiction it has a deep ring of truth to it somewhere that gives it weight. I liked the characters, ...more
Aug 06, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This story gives you a glimpse into the life of fishermen/trappers on the coast of Newfoundland in the early 1800's.
It is also about the Beothuk Indians or "Red Indians" as they were called due to the ochre with which they decorated their bodies and possessions. In the 1500's when Europeans arrived their population is estimated at between 500 and 5000. The Beothuk were a solitary people that once claimed the entire coast of Newfoundland as their territory. By the early 1800's as a cultural grou
Reece Smith
Dec 16, 2017 rated it liked it
I had read about the Beothuk in Will Ferguson's 'Canadian History for Dummies' where he describes the killing of the natives in Newfoundland by the settlers there as a 'genocide'. This book allows you to experience this dark history.
The Beothuk themselves are mainly on the periphery. Even when they are killed, the reader doesn't feel much for them because the author never really explores their perspective. They are represented as burial ground relics, or as a few tribesman who act inexplicably.
If I had tried to read this book 20 years ago I would have never got through it. It's a slow mover, but I seem to have a lot more patience with this style. I even enjoy it

The story simply follows the life of settlers in the early 1800's on the shores of Newfoundland and their first contacts with Native people. There isn't a whole lot of story to it in the traditional style. More about the characters and their back stories. I found this a little hard to follow at times because you'd be reading ab
Cathy Regular
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it

Hidden Gems:

The Red Indians seemed almost to dissipate, like a dream that resists articulation, becoming increasingly elusive as the Europeans occupied and renamed the bays and points and islands that once belonged to them alone.

She seemed hollow to him, brickly, fragile as the first layer of ice caught over a pond in the fall.

It's sometimes the simplest explanation is closest to the truth.

All my life I've loved what didn't belong to me.
Apr 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Crummey brings to life a bygone era, the hard scrabble lives of European settlers and Native tribes in early 1800's Newfoundland. There are vivid details of hunting, fishing, homesteading, amid forays by the settlers into the traditional lands of the Native Peoples. Misunderstandings abound, lives are lost.

The author writes well, but I found myself slogging through descriptions of the precarious everyday lives of the characters.
Oct 11, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 star
An interesting read about a tragic part of Newfoundland histroy, particularly for me having lived in Newfoundland for 20 years. The story centers around Cassie, a woman from St. John's who is hired to look after and teach a trapper's son living in the wilds. The trapper then brings home a Beothuk woman and Cassie befriends and teaches her. The story describes the way of life of the Beothuk, a first nations people obliterated by the English in the early 1800s
Joanne Seitz
Jun 21, 2017 rated it liked it
I like Crummey's writing, and very much enjoyed Galore, but found this story and experience difficult. We know at the beginning that the Beothuks are annihilated, and the nastiness of everyone's experience seems unrelenting. Good points are the well-researched history and apparently accurate and detailed descriptions of how people hunted, ate, lived, most of them having left England looking for something better.
Susan Marrier
A good story set in a little-known time and place in Canada's history, with vivid characters. My issues were that the moving back and forth in time was sometimes abrupt and unclear, and Crummey's overuse of simile. But on the whole I enjoyed learning more about the history of a place I had recently visited.
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good historical fiction of this country. The conflict between earlier inhabitants of Newfoundland and European settlers. Rough climate, rough people, different interpretations of how to live w nature and survive in tact. Good sympathetic characters typify what happened. Beautifully, poetically told.
Katie Mercer
Mar 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I am clearly very much here for whatever literary magic Crummey is doing. My feelings around what Crummey writes about it that generally speaking it's hard to narrow in on what is a story, and what is a fact. This book is clearly well researched history that is what storytelling should be. Probably should be mandatory reading for Canadian history.
Aug 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
I felt I was there with the characters many times. NOT that I would want to be in early 1800's Newfoundland. This is a difficult book to describe - it's a sad, haunting tale about the demise of the Beothuk Indians and the hard time the settlers had to stay alive.
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Incredible story of Newfoundland Beothuk Indians 1820s 1 3 Jun 06, 2018 12:52PM  

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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