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

Only Killers and Thieves

by
4.04  ·  Rating details ·  2,567 ratings  ·  466 reviews
Two adolescent brothers are exposed to the brutal realities of life and the seductive cruelty of power after a tragedy shatters their family in this riveting debut novel—a story of savagery and race, injustice and honor set in the untamed frontier of 1880s Australia—reminiscent of Philipp Meyer’s The Son and the novels of Cormac McCarthy

An epic Western, a tough coming-of-a
...more
Hardcover, 325 pages
Published February 6th 2018 by Harper
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 Only Killers and Thieves, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Margie
This answer contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Bradley Valentine What do you mean? Like a sweepstakes promotion or like do character interactions that make sense rather than lie to throw you off leading up to the bi…moreWhat do you mean? Like a sweepstakes promotion or like do character interactions that make sense rather than lie to throw you off leading up to the big “twist”?

If the second, yes. It’s pretty clear who the killers are almost from the beginning. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.04  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,567 ratings  ·  466 reviews


More filters
 | 
Sort order
Start your review of Only Killers and Thieves
Will Byrnes
The guilt is collective, the responsibility shared. In a hundred years no one will even remember what happened here and certainly no one will care. History is forgetting. Afterward we write the account, the account becomes truth, and we tell ourselves it has always been this way, that others were responsible, that there was nothing we could have done.
Australia, 1885, drought-stricken central Queensland. The McBrides struggle to scratch a living from their parcel of land, raising bony cattle
...more
Julie
Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth is a 2018 Harper publication.

Absorbing coming of age tale of two brothers who took different paths in the harsh scrublands of Australia in the 1800’s-

When Billy and Tommy find their parents brutally murdered and their sister barely clinging to life, they make an uneasy bargain with the rich landowner, their father had not trusted, to hunt down the man accused of killing their family.

There is a horrible backstory that leads up this chain of events, as t
...more
Beata
May 25, 2020 rated it it was amazing
One of those novels which make me pause and take a break while reading ...
It is a story which shows the cold-blooded policy towards the Aborignes in the 1880s called 'dispersal' which actually was annihilation under any disguise available.
This is coming-of-age fiction with two brothers, Tommy and Billy McBride, aged 14 and 16, whose family are murdered and who at some point have to choose which side they are on, is a gut-wrenching, harrowing, terrifying and graphic tale about dominance, greed a
...more
Faith
Feb 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audio, overdrive
This book is a coming of age story, a western, a depiction of Australia's racist past and a really good book. Blurbs generally oversell, but in this case I believe that the comparison of this book to the work of Philipp Meyer and Cormac McCarthy is justified, although I liked this book a lot more than I liked "The Son" by Meyer.

In 1885 Tommy (14) and Billy (16) McBride live on a Queensland cattle ranch with their sister Mary (11) and their parents. They are in the midst of a drought and their ca
...more
Melki
"We're on our own, Tommy. There ain't no God out here."

Two brothers, growing up during a time of turmoil in 1885 Australia. The land is harsh, the climate unforgiving. Their indigenous neighbors are considered to be less than human, and destined for "dispersal."

"These natives . . . they've the Devil in them, Tommy, they're naught but killers and thieves."

This book is not for the faint of heart; there are trigger warnings galore: rape, the liberal use of the N- and C-words, and one horrific c
...more
Rebecca McNutt
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Australian literature that captures the beauty of the continent is always interesting, and Only Killers and Thieves transports readers to an earlier and very brutal Queensland stricken with a serious drought. As if times aren't hard enough, a shocking serial murder leaves three siblings struggling to survive and to find out what happened. For Billy and Tommy, it's as much a self journey as it is a rush to find who killed their parents and injured their sister. Full of bittersweet nostalgia and d ...more
Jill
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Oh my. Where should I begin? Perhaps here: it is not yet 2018 and this book has already earned a secure place on my Best of 2018 list. It is a searing indictment of racism, and injustice, a glowing tribute to the part of us that struggles to remain human in the worst of circumstances, and a riveting testimony to the power of the writer.

I’ve seen this book compared to Philipp Meyer’s The Son and the works of Cormac McCarthy, but to me, the most apt comparison is to Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow R
...more
Melissa Crytzer Fry
This gritty, brutal book set in late 1800s Australia by Paul Howarth was intense. And well-written.

This novel has been compared to Philipp Meyers’s THE SON (which I loved), but I’m not sure it’s a truly accurate comparison. Yes, there are parallels to the horrible treatment and ‘displacement’ of Aboriginal people in Australia vs. the same treatment of Native American Indians in the United States around the same time. Both have an ‘old west’ feel to them with uncharted territories as the backdro
...more
Brenda
1885 and the Queensland outback was in the grips of a terrible drought. Tommy McBride, fourteen years of age, and his older brother, sixteen-year-old Billy helped their father with the cattle mustering and other chores around their property, whilst their young sister, eleven-year-old Mary helped their mother in the farmhouse. The drought was causing their cattle to lose condition; the water had almost dried up and the feed was nonexistent. When the small town nearby refused them credit for basic ...more
Barbara
Feb 14, 2020 rated it liked it
3+ stars

Many countries have a history of violence toward the indigenous population, and Australia is no exception. This book vividly (sometimes too vividly) details attacks on the aborigines. It is a suspenseful story or racism, injustice, revenge, and good vs. evil. It is well worth the time and I am glad I read it, although the violence and brutality were gruesome.
Susan
Dec 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-own-read
There are very few books I find that are hard to read but this is positively one of them. I had to put this down more than once but it is definitely a well written account of one family trying to survive in Australia in 1885. This is not for the faint of heart but well worth the read.
Laura
Mar 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Somewhat slow start but gains speed. Nasty and violent characters....thus the title is perfect. Superb, debut novel.
Jen from Quebec :0)
***UPDATE***--- I have decided that I simply enjoyed this book too darn much to leave it as a 4 star rating, and want to tell the world I hereby give it the fabled '4.5' rating! (Alas, the uneven ending can't allow the full 5). Also, I liked this book enough that I need to take some real time, return to this page and write a much longer, full, detailed review. This book has earned one. --Jen from Quebec :0) (Feb 27th, 2018)

WOW! For a debut novel, this book was incredible. I have a LOT to say abo
...more
Lisa
Feb 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book (IMO) is THE BEST book I think that I’ve read so far in 2018. With that said, this book won’t be for everyone. I’m a western type of girl. I love western movies and tv! This is a different type of western set in 1880’s Australia.
The writing is fantastic!! The story is heartbreaking but so poignant. The characters come alive with raw emotion and ego! Often situations are difficult to read but necessary for the time and life of the book.
GREAT debut!! Look forward to many more Mr. Howart
...more
Jeanette (Again)
What happens when a boy on the verge of manhood is stripped from the moorings that formed his conscience? Can he hold out against those who are stronger and less principled than he is?

This novel starts out in Bleaksville and grows ever more bleaky as it progresses. What makes it worth persevering are the extraordinary writing gifts of the author, and his choice to tell the story in the third person, but through the eyes of fourteen-going-on-fifteen Tommy McBride. (I'm very much an un-fan of fir
...more
Lou
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Interview with Paul Howarth On Writing | More2Read Interviews

“. . . they’ve the Devil in them, Tommy, they’re naught but killers and thieves.”

Doings and undoings, survival, war, blood, and loss set in motion.
An unsettling relevant timeless tale coming out of Australia.
Tommy and Billy were fourteen and sixteen years old caught in a web of doings, some done complicitly in the whirlwind of there minds in the blood and thunder of events. The fates of the two brothers and a community of people a hook
...more
Cynthia
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Only Killers and Thieves is a personal reading highlight for 2017. The blurb on the back of the cover compares Howarth to Philipp Meyer and Cormac McCarthy. I’ve become leery when I read such comparisons because I’ve been disappointed so many times and though I haven’t read Meyers I have read Cormac McCarthy and loved his writing. In this case the comparison of Howard’s to McCarthy is apt in that they both write on the edges of what is almost too horrifying to think about but the language is so ...more
Jill
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I just finished Only Killers and Thieves, and I’m heartbroken to be at the end. I was hesitant to read it, because it's clear by reading the description that this wild west saga set in 19th century Queensland will be violent & cruel which is not my favorite.

Even though there is brutality which is painful to read, this is a gorgeous story. I was especially impressed by how convincingly the different characters were written.

Tommy is a teenager searching for himself and a place to belong in terri
...more
Roger Brunyate
 
The Devil in the Mind
Men fear that which is alien, that which they cannot control. Hence most are afraid of certain animals, predators, those they cannot tame. In this country that would be snakes, dingos to an extent, but mostly the wild native. It is remarkable really, to see how afraid you all are. They have become like the Devil in the minds of white men.
Goodreads has you choose shelves for books you review. I am making a new one for this, Top Ten 2018 maybe; of course, it is provisiona
...more
Carolyn
Feb 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
This is riveting powerful writing. The description of the Queensland frontier with its wide open spaces is rapturous. Scorched scrubland, drought, dust storms, rare chilling heavy rain, the blank wasteland stretching beyond, all vividly expressed in glorious prose. The story is set in the 1880’s in the untamed Australian frontier, it is a gripping tale transporting the reader to the time and place.

The characters are complex and compelling. The heart of the story is 15 year old Tommy who sees a
...more
Becky
Aug 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very well written, and enjoyed learning more about Australia in the late 1800s. Without giving too much away, there was a mystery early in the book, which was pretty easy to figure out, but it was frustrating that the protagonists were not able to figure out what happened until very late in the book. The ending was rather open-ended, but I found it satisfying.
Stephen
novel based in late 19th century Queensland in a cowboy western where the McBride family have been murdered and the search by the sons for the killers into the scrub/outback. felt the novel could of been slightly shorter
Kiwi Begs2Differ  ✎
Set in a dark period in Australia history, the story opens in 1885 in the Queensland outback with an attack to the McBride’s farm that leaves two members of the family dead and another gravely injured. The two surviving teen brothers, Billy and Tommy, suspect one of their native ex-employees, Joseph, of being involved in the crime.

Desperate and without options, they ask John Sullivan, their ruthless and wealthy neighbor, for help. Sullivan quickly engages the support of the Native police in ord
...more
Dax
May 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-stars, fiction
A predictable result, but that doesn’t hurt the enjoyment of this novel. Crisp writing accompanied with clipped dialogue. Noone and Tommy are great characters and their interactions carry this novel (well, that, and all the terrible bloodshed). It’s fun to watch Tommy develop from boy into a man who has seen and participated in some terrible stuff. A fun and excellent read.
Mark
Feb 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
“The frontier crossing turned Tommy's gut. Their passing from settled land to wild. All his life he feared it, the uncharted west, looming like a shadow on the edge of the world.”

It is 1885, Queensland, in the Australian outback. The McBride family are struggling to survive on a drought-ridden piece of land. There are two teenage sons and a younger daughter. When tragedy strikes the family, the sons are set adrift and take refuge with John Sullivan, a local, rich, landowner. Sullivan is convince
...more
Kimberley
May 22, 2018 rated it it was ok
Paul Howarth can spin a tale. There’s no denying his ability as a writer, but the chosen content was tough to read—no matter how much historical truth there is to back him up.

Tommy and Billy are forced to grow up quickly after discovering their parents murdered, and their younger sister left for dead, on their modest homestead.

From there, Howarth takes the reader on a twisted, despicable, bounty hunt for the “killers and thieves” that left Tommy’s family devastated. However, as the story unfold
...more
Jan
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was riveted from the first few pages by this tale of a family struggling to survive a drought in 1880s Australia and the family’s teenage brothers, who get involved in an expedition to “disperse” the indigenous people. A grim story at times, but an important one, and a great read—a remarkably accomplished debut novel.
RG
Jul 16, 2018 rated it liked it
3.5*Read this one for bookclub. As much as I appreciated the language and the themes, the story itself felt like something I'd come across too many times before. The characters were great as well, especially the dynamic between the brothers.
Bonnie Brody
Jan 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This amazing book takes place in late nineteenth century Australia in a remote location that is barely settled and has suffered drought for so long that everything is covered with a coat of dust. The McBride family has been trying to make a go of ranching but things are looking very bleak. One day the two boys, Tommy and Billy McBride, go out for a ride and come home to find their parents murdered and their younger sister Mary very close to death from gunshot wounds.

Tommy and Billy take their si
...more
Mary Lins
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: complete
“Only Killers and Thieves”, by first time novelist, Paul Howarth, has been compared to Philipp Meyer’s, “The Son”, and Paulette Jiles’, “News of the World”; masterpieces both, I’d also say that it has a “whiff” of Steinbeck’s, “East of Eden”, and though it is beautifully written and an arresting tale, it’s is not quite up to these lofty comparisons.

Set in the harsh edge of the Australian Outback of the late Nineteenth century; comparisons to the American West and the relationship between the whi
...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Wolves of Eden
  • Bearskin
  • Gods of Howl Mountain
  • High White Sun
  • The Fighter
  • Whiskey When We're Dry
  • Country Dark
  • This Side of Night
  • The River
  • Like Lions (Bull Mountain, #2)
  • Savage Country
  • The Nickel Boys
  • Blackwood
  • A Shout in the Ruins
  • Bobby March Will Live Forever (Harry McCoy, #3)
  • Washington Black
  • The Far Empty
  • The Winter Soldier
See similar books…
95 followers
Paul Howarth is a British-Australian author and former lawyer. He holds a master's degree from the University of East Anglia's creative writing program, where he was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship, and currently lives in Norwich with his family. Only Killers and Thieves is his first novel.

Related Articles

Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman know the radical life-changing power of a good friendship. The two launched their hit podcast Call Your Girlfriend ...
16 likes · 3 comments
“You know, Raymond, above all else I consider myself a scientist, a chronicler of humankind. Over the years I have met many men like you and have come to the conclusion that beneath your bluster you are fundamentally all the same. You are cowards. That is what you are. Keen for any fight you think you can win, scared of those you cannot. I would wager you beat your animals. Horses, dogs, pets. And your women, probably—” 0 likes
More quotes…