Tag Archives: Beothuk

Blasts from the Past: River Thieves by Michael Crummey (2001)

Cover imageThis is the latest in a series of occasional posts featuring books I read years ago about which I was wildly enthusiastic at the time, wanting to press a copy in as many hands as I could.

I went through a phase of reading novels about Native Americans of which Michael Crummey’s debut was one of the best. That particular interest had been sparked by several holidays in the American South West.  I remember, vividly, driving through the Arizonan desert marvelling at the landscape while listening to reggae on the Navajo radio station, something for which they have a passion. Sadly we’d missed a Toots and the Maytals gig the previous year in Santa Fe by just a few days.

River Thieves is set about as far from New Mexico as where I live in the UK. It’s the story of the extinction of a Newfoundland tribe – the Beothuk – in the early nineteenth century. I no longer remember as much about the novel’s story as I would like but a quick Google trawl reminded me that Crummey uses four characters to unfold this miserable tale of atrocity: a fisherman who loathes the Beothuk, his more tolerant son, their strong-minded housekeeper and a British naval officer assigned to investigate rumours of outrages perpetrated against the tribe. Two expeditions are launched, both involving the fisherman and his son, one in search of a peaceful solution which goes horribly wrong, and the second – years later – which ends in the kidnapping of a Beothuk woman and a murder.

What struck me most about the novel was the beautiful prose in which Crummey unfolds this sad story, and the subtlety with which he handles it. Just over a year ago I read his latest novel, Sweetland, and while I enjoyed it, it was no match for River Thieves which seems overdue for a rereading. Just as well I have my old proof copy as it seems that, sadly, the novel is no longer in print in the UK. Naomi over at Consumed by Ink is a fellow fan if you’d like to read a more detailed review.

What about you, any blasts from the past you’d like to share?