• The Bossy Bookworm

Review of Only Killers and Thieves by Paul Howarth

A book that fascinated me, in case you missed it! This was often brutal to read, but it was beautifully written, in a style that felt perfectly suited for the stark Australian outback setting.

Only Killers and Thieves is set in the Australian outback at the end of the 19th century. It centers around one family’s conflicts with crooked and powerful neighbors; cruel and aggressive Native Police aiming to eradicate the aboriginal people; the killing drought; and each other. One poor judgment leads to another, foolish choices end in bloodshed, and one brother makes justifications for his actions and feels no remorse, while the other brother feels crushed by it all.


Howarth explores questions such as: Can people really change? Is remorse useful, and does it make a person more redeemable? Can a person’s character or morality be decided in a moment, or in a series of defining moments? Is killing ever justifiable if laws allow it? Is a sleazy trade-off forgivable if it takes place in a life-and-death situation?


I was struck by Tommy’s striking, dark description of feeling beaten and trapped within a cycle of corruption, death, and destruction:


“Dumb as bloody cattle: a cow finds herself in a dried-up paddock and doesn’t think to leave, next thing she’s been hollowed out by the dingos and finished by the birds.”


Toward the end of Only Killers and Thieves, we see messy second chances take shape, a little retribution, and an attempt at a changed existence—but the haunting memories of the past creep in relentlessly.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

This was often brutal to read, but it was beautifully written, in a style that felt perfectly suited for the stark setting. I thought about this one long after I finished it. It was disturbing and a mind churner.


Dust Off the Bones is Howarth's upcoming sequel to Only Killers and Thieves, due out in summer 2021.


If you like reading books with this type of tone and spirit, you might also like those listed in the Greedy Reading List Six Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West. And stay tuned for this Friday's upcoming list of Six More Great Historical Fiction Stories Set in the American West!