Friday, July 5, 2019

Only Killers and Thieves - Paul Howarth ------------------- 4 Stars

It's always nice when a book comes by that you had no idea of or intention of reading and it amazes. Well, that is certainly what happened as I just enjoyed Paul Howarth's Only Killers and Thieves.

Set in late 19th Century Australian outback, this book is a tough read. Not tough like, "hmmm, I don't know that word" or "what exactly is going on right now." No, it's a tough read because life in the outback during this time period is hard. What makes it even more tough is that the author writes about some of the most gruesome and violent elements of people's bad personalities. It reminds me a lot of the most famous Thomas Hobbes quote that life is "nasty, brutish, and short."

While the story starts out slow, perhaps to mimic the slow tick of time when there is not much to do during this period and location of vast expanse, it picks up very quickly about a quarter of the way in. After a life changing event, the two teenage boys who are the main characters of the book, have to grow up incredibly quickly without much adult support. As the novel rolls on, and they are faced with the brutish nature of unkind and self-interested adults, they struggle with determining how they want to live their own lives, and really, what kind of man they want to be.

The story is quite fascinating and the action scenes, along with a few major and diverse story-lines, makes this a very entertaining read. Be warned, the detail and violence with which the author describes some scenes is jarring. Murder, rape, racism and other difficult acts are on full display, with all details included. For many, I would assume it will be difficult to read these words and picture these scenes. Though, I figure that's the point; you can't help but care for these two young brothers and as you realize the depth of fear, anger, and sadness they face, you sympathize even further with their plight.

Overall, this a highly charged and engaging story that keeps the reader connected until the end. In fact, I was impressed with the ending as the author did enough to assure that there was closure while allowing your imagination to run a bit about what may have happened with things not spelled out fully. If you can get past the difficult language and violent nature of many parts of the book, you'll most likely enjoy this well told tale.

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