River Thieves” by Canadian writer, Michael Crummey, is an evocative tale of the conflict between European settlers and the aboriginal inhabitants (the Beothuk  or “Red Indians”) of Newfoundland at the turn of the 19th century. 

British naval officer David Buchan arrives on the Bay of Exploits in 1810 with orders to establish friendly contact with the elusive Beothuk, who have been driven almost to extinction.  Buchan recruits the area’s most powerful family of white settlers, the Peytons, to aid with the expedition into the Newfoundland interior and spends the ensuing decade enmeshed in a confusing and violent world of conflicting loyalties and time-worn grudges. 

A poet first, Crummey’s debut novel is rich with elegant metaphor and sensual prose creating vivid images of the most easterly shores of Canada in another era.  His use of the simple and beautiful language and phrases of the time is so well detailed the reader intuits meaning of past ways through the author’s precision in determining contextual significance.

The author grew up in Newfoundland and Labrador and many historical figures and events that took place there provided the inspiration for this book.  A Peyton family actually lived in the Bay of Exploits, and were intimately involved in the destiny of the Beothuk.  David Buchan was a Scottish naval officer and Arctic explorer who operated in and around Newfoundland and led an 1810 unsuccessful expedition to make contact with the dwindling Beothuk population.

River Thieves (2001) became a Canadian bestseller, winning the Thomas Head Raddall Award, the Winterset Award for Excellence in Newfoundland Writing, and the Atlantic Independent Booksellers’ Choice Award. It was also shortlisted for the Giller Prize, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, the Books in Canada First Novel Award, and was long-listed for the IMPAC Award.

 

FOUR out of FIVE 

 

I look forward to reading Crummey’s second and third novels.  The Wreckage (2005) was long listed for the 2007 IMPAC Award and Galore (2009) shortlisted for the 2011 IMPAC Award.