Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “River Thieves” as Want to Read:
River Thieves
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

River Thieves

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  2,375 ratings  ·  182 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)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about River Thieves, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
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 g…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)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.89  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,375 ratings  ·  182 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of River Thieves
Joy D
Set in Newfoundland, 1811-1820, this book is a fictionalized version of real events. John Peyton, Sr., John Peyton, Jr., and tutor Cassie Jure live together near the north shore where they make a living by fishing and trapping. Captain David Buchan is a British naval officer who attempts to encourage trade and end hostilities between the settlers and the Beothuk. The book features two expeditions to the Beothuk, each of which ends in violence. The Peytons bring back a Beothuk woman, whom they ca ...more
Oct 11, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A solid 4 out of 5 stars - I've had this book physically on my bookshelf for over a decade and boy am I glad I waited. I genuinely don't think I would have appreciated this novel, with it's honest, sometimes brutally so, depictions of what life is like, even now - not every story has a fairytale ending.

What I would have liked more from this is more Beothuk! For something that is supposed to have them as a pretty serious focus, they're on the backburners a lot - more of a storytelling piece to mo
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
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
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
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
Absolutely brilliant!

Loved the characters, dialogue, setting, plot(s), battle descriptions (disturbing as they were), life in the very early days and brutal of Newfoundland. The potential court case was interesting and the ending of who killed which 2 two Indians was a surprise.

I saw Mr. Crummey at a Wordfest event in October 2019 when he was promoting his book The Innocents and he is a great story teller. If you get the chance to see him in-person or on a Zoom type situation, I would do so.
Brett Starr
Jan 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I've loved the other two Michael Crummey novels I read "Sweetland" & "The Innocents". He has a great style of writing that really pulls you into the story's setting. This novel is no different, it's the author's first novel and definitely a great story about a time & place you're unlikely to ever hear about otherwise.

Highly recommended. Seek out good books & enjoy!

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”
Mary Jane Hele
Feb 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
I am a fan of Michael Crummy's work and have wanted to read River Thieves for a while. Sadly I had difficulty following the moving back and forward in time with many of the accounts. I found myself going back and rereading parts of the story to get my bearings. The telling of memories of previous times occurred so suddenly that it was hard to separate the present from the past. All the same I did enjoy the book with the nuanced description of the characters, their emotions and character flaws an ...more
Lorina Stephens
Apr 20, 2021 rated it it was amazing
It is astonishing River Thieves was Michael Crummey's debut novel. Right from the outset he demonstrates his facility as a storyteller and a master of writing.

This is a compelling story which effortless draws you into the world of 19th century Newfoundland, and a British naval officer who is under orders to establish contact with the ever-diminishing Beothuk people. Add into that mix colonial ignorance and hatred, cultural misunderstanding and miscommunication, combined wild frontier justice, a
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
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. ...more
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. ...more
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.
Linda Johnson
Nov 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
While focus of plot is the story of families in Beothuk Newfoundland, I found the information about enterprise and commercial operations also informative.
Dec 17, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: british
The British Government of the day (1810 - 20’s) would like to improve relations with the native Beothuk population, which is difficult because of the thieving perpetuated by both sides. The Beothuks are slowly being driven from their traditional fishing grounds by European settlement, so of necessity, they begin stealing traps, fishing lines, even boats. The settlers retaliate by stealing back, and adding murder for revenge.
In order to foster better relations with the Beothuks, the Government r
Eric Holzman
Jun 09, 2021 rated it it was amazing
River Thieves is a great historical novel on the final conflicts between English settlers and the last of the native Americans, called the Beothuk, living on the island of Newfoundland during the early 19th century. The opening two pages, which describe the arrival of English visitors at a Beothuk village, as told from the perspective of a Native women in the village, are brilliant. This event is the crux of the last two thirds of the book, and its meaning does not become apparent until later. T ...more
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 descript
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
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.
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
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
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: River Thieves by Michael Crummey - 4.5 stars 1 6 Apr 18, 2021 10:45AM  
Incredible story of Newfoundland Beothuk Indians 1820s 1 3 Jun 06, 2018 12:52PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Ridgerunner
  • February
  • The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
  • The Stone Carvers
  • Random Passage (Random Passage, #1)
  • Through Black Spruce
  • The Bravest Voices: The Extraordinary Heroism of Sisters Ida and Louise Cook During the Nazi Era
  • Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club
  • The Navigator of New York
  • Late Nights on Air
  • Indians on Vacation
  • How to Pronounce Knife
  • The Skin We're In: A Year of Black Resistance and Power
  • Kit's Law
  • The Woman in the Attic
  • DreadfulWater
  • The Wake: The Deadly Legacy of a Newfoundland Tsunami
  • Polar Vortex
See similar books…
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

Related Articles

Need another excuse to go to the bookstore this week? We've got you covered with the buzziest new releases of the week. To create our...
11 likes · 12 comments