In a masterly debut, the award-winning poet and short-fiction writer Michael Crummey crafts a haunting novel set on the rugged coast of Newfoundland at the turn of the nineteenth century. Told in elegant, sensual prose, RIVER THIEVES Thieves is a richly imagined, historically provocative story about love, loss, and the heartbreaking compromises -- both personal and political -- that undermine lives.
In 1810, David Buchan, a naval officer, arrives in the Bay of Exploits with orders to establish contact with the Beothuk, or "Red Indians," the aboriginal inhabitants of Newfoundland, who are facing extinction. When Buchan approaches the area's most influential white settlers, the Peytons, for advice and assistance, he enters a shadowy world of allegiances and old grudges that he can only dimly apprehend. His closest ally, John Peyton Jr., maintains an uneasy balance between duty to his father -- a domineering patriarch with a reputation as a ruthless persecutor of the Beothuk -- and his troubled conscience. Cassie, the fiercely self-reliant and secretive woman who keeps the family house, walks a precarious line of her own between the unspoken but obvious hopes of the younger Peyton, her loyalty to John Senior, and a steadfast refusal to compromise her independence. When Buchan's peace expedition into "Indian country" goes awry, the rift between father and son deepens and begins to divide those closest to them.
Years later, when a second expedition to the Beothuk's winter camp mounted by the Peytons leads to the kidnapping of an Indian woman and the murder of her husband, Buchan returns to investigate. As the officer attempts to uncover what really happened at the Red Indians' lake, the delicate web of obligation and debt that holds together the Peyton household -- and the community of settlers on the northeastern shore -- slowly unravels.
The tragedy of miscommunication and loss among these colonists living in a harsh environment in a crude, violent age prefigures and in some sense is seen as the cause of the more profound loss, that of an entire people. An enthralling story of great passion and suspense, vividly set in the stark Newfoundland landscape and driven by an extraordinary cast of characters, RIVER THIEVES 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
“Michael Crummey’s River Thieves is a novel of exquisite craftsmanship and masterful artistry that should gain the broad attention it so richly deserves: a novel of intricately balanced storytelling and intriguing location but one also where the keen eye of a poet resides within the language. The writing is simple and beautiful, fully textured and gracefully rendered. Crummey has the rare ability to breathe his characters right off the page and into the reader’s mind, where they then lodge, living on well past the final page. River Thieves marks the emergence of a powerful, mature talent.” —Jeffrey Lent, author of In the Fall
“This multi-faceted jewel of a book is probably the finest Canadian novel of the year. . . . River Thieves is the sort of novel that raises gooseflesh on the reader’s arms in its opening pages and doesn’t surrender them until well after the covers are closed.” — National Post
“It is a novel full of poetic metaphor and memorable images. The language and phrases of the time are richly used, and through meticulous detail it manages to breathe life into past ways. Most of all, it creates a vivid portrait of Newfoundland of another era.” — The Globe and Mail
“A stunningly polished and powerful book….Crummey’s craftsmanship is masterful.” — Maclean’s
“River Thieves is a wonderful novel and Michael Crummey is a writer of enormous talent….Michael Crummey writers like an old pro and, not so incidently, also like an old soul, who has borne witness to tragic tendencies of humans for generations, and views them with awe and sadness and a clear-eyed compassion.” — Ottawa Citizen
“A rip-roaring adventure tale if ever there was one … An exceptionally accomplished work of historical fiction that revels in the art of storytelling…. River Thieves is an auspicious debut for Crummey. His next novel can’t come soon enough.” — Calgary Herald
“A haunting novel … An engrossing and complex story that feels as authentic as a contemporary eyewitness account.” — Elle Canada
“Early into Michael Crummey’s first novel, a rip-roaring adventure tale if there ever was one, a character declares `A good story will never disappoint you.’ Now isn’t that the truth. Certainly there is nothing disappointing about Crummey’s first novel, an exceptionally accomplished work of historical fiction that revels in the art of story-telling.” — The Calgary Herald
“This is a splendid novel reflective of a particular place and time. Michael Crummey is a tremendously gifted writer.” —Alistair MacLeod
“Like David Adams Richards…Crummey favours the minimalist stroke, the revealing detail relied upon to spill its magic gracefully, with tremendous emotional and psychological impact.” — Toronto Star
“In the tradition of such contemporary classics as Cold Mountain and In The Fall, this beautifully-written novel is both a stunning adventure story and a profound saga of courage and idealism in an imperfect world…. The last of the Beothuks died 175 years ago. But thanks to Michael Crummey, they live on in River Thieves, a novel of great wisdom, great power, and great heart.” —Howard Frank Mosher, author of A Stranger in the Kingdom and North Country
“A little-known historical atrocity -- the extinction of the Beothuk (“Red”) Indians of central Newfoundland -- becomes an authentic tragedy in this brilliantly constructed, immensely moving debut novel by an award-winning Canadian poet and short-story writer....There’s a literary renaissance underway just north of us, and Crummey’s quite literally astonishing debut novel is one of the brightest jewels in its crown.” -- Kirkus, April 15, 2002
Praise for Michael Crummey’s short fiction:
In the story ‘Serendipity’, which appeared in the 1998 Journey Prize Anthology, “Crummey brings ephemerally delicate details into chillingly stark relief.” — The Globe and Mail
“Like David Adams Richards… Crummey favours the minimalist stroke, the revealing detail relied upon to spill its magic, gracefully, with tremendous emotional and psychological impact. Writing from the marrow of the matter, the craftsman intimates we're all card-carrying members of the club of second guesses, that universal sodality allowing each of us to reflect on ways we might have worked harder, played better, loved stronger or stood taller. … Crummey engages readers from the get-go.” — The Toronto Star
“The stories in Flesh and Blood [are] profoundly moving and convincing.” — The National Post
“Like the pauses in a piece of music without which the notes would make no sense, the silences between the parents, children, spouses and lovers in Crummey's stories shape the meaning of their actions, desires and connection to each other… Crummey's stories, while honouring hard lives lived with patience, also have a quality of compacted richness.” — The Kingston Whig-Standard
Praise for Michael Crummey’s poetry:
“This is one of the finest first books I've come across... If Alistair MacLeod wrote poetry instead of stories, he might have written these poems.” — Quill & Quire
“Michael Crummey's Hard Light will catch and hold you in a place where the ocean is something you recognize, and the lives of those he writes about have something to say directly to you about laughter, survival, suffering, redemption… When you've found an author with the kind of power Crummey has, one of the first things to do is to head back to the bookstore looking for more.” — Atlantic Books Today
“It's a rare writer who can fashion a vivid memorial to an all-but-vanished way of life; it's a rarer one who can excavate the vernacular and raise it to planes so poignantly and viscerally true, the exquisite beauty of the apparently ordinary shimmers with a matter-of-fact clarity guaranteed to curl your toes.” — The Toronto Star
“The pieces [in Hard Light] reflect artistic intelligence in their shape and rhythm and in their structural relation to the book as a whole… Each piece is resonant… Rich in specific detail, uttered in the voices of those who've lived the stories, these miniatures reveal a world. …Crummey transforms documentary into art…. With Hard Light, Michael Crummey has made a significant contribution to our literature…creating a book that honors the past yet is thoroughly contemporary in its strategies and vision.” — The Sunday Telegram
“Solid, satisfying, scrupulous about the salty details of working lives… Hard Light is solidly anchored on The Rock.” — The Globe and Mail
“The eloquent simplicity goes straight to the heart.” —Patrick Lane
From the Back Cover