"Vibrantly written and uniquely evocative" (Denver Post), River Thievesis the riveting story of a group of European settlers of the New World in the early nineteenth century. The Peytons, their enigmatic housekeeper, and the men who manage their fishing and trapping concerns on the shores of Newfoundland live lives of punishing physicality, inarticulate longing, and violence. Their misunderstandings and compromises have tragic consequences not only for their own community but also for the Beothuk, or Red Indians, a people on the verge of extinction. With penetrating insight, Michael Crummey captures both the vast sweep of history and the intimate lives of those caught in its wake.
2002 Amazon.com/Books in Canada First Novel Award Shortlist:
In River Thieves
, his first novel, poet and short-story writer Michael Crummey reaches far into Newfoundland's past to tell one of the colony's most tragic stories: the extermination of the Beothuk people. Through the lives and reminiscences of some of the colony's most prominent European residents--David Buchan, a naval explorer and idealist who attempts to bring the isolated Beothuks into productive contact with the British Empire; John Peyton Jr., the obedient son of a relentlessly patriarchal local trader; Cassie Jure, John Peyton Sr.'s literate, aloof housekeeper; and Joseph Reilly, a transported Irish thief and a genuinely decent trapper--Crummey recounts a halfhearted attempt, foiled by the colony's petty tensions, to save the Beothuks.
River Thieves is an oddly meandering novel, and this is its greatest appeal. Rather than offering a grisly, guilt-ridden adventure story that rushes from its suitably portentous beginning to its inevitably sombre end, Crummey works with a meandering sort of history, one that has to go over the same events a few times before they begin to give up their secrets, temporarily leaving his readers as disoriented as his benighted characters. The book's real heart--the Beothuks--never becomes fully articulate; the Beothuks remain buried on the shore, or encamped among the snows of Red Indian Lake. Anyone who wants this kind of story to come equipped with heroes and, perhaps, even answers, should turn to Rudy Wiebe, but Crummey's labyrinthine approach has its own distinct appeal. --Jack Illingworth