Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 432 pages, 7.99 × 5.19 × 1.18 in
Published: August 27, 2002
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0385658176
ISBN - 13: 9780385658171
Read from the Book
The Face of a Robber’s Horse 1810 have the face of a robber’s horse : to be brazen, without shame or pity. — Dictionary of Newfoundland English O N E It was the sound of his father’s voice that woke John Peyton, a half-strangled shouting across the narrow hall that separated the upstairs bedrooms in the winter house. They had moved over from the summer house near the cod fishing grounds on Burnt Island only two weeks before and it took him a moment to register where he was lying, the bed and the room made strange by the dark and the disorientation of broken sleep. He lay listening to the silence that always followed his father’s nightmares, neither of the men shifting in their beds or making any other sound, both pretending they weren’t awake. Peyton turned his head to the window where moonlight made the frost on the pane glow a pale, frigid white. In the morning he was leaving for the backcountry to spend the season on a trapline west of the River Exploits, for the first time running traps without his father. He’d been up half the night with the thought of going out on his own and there was no chance of getting back to sleep now. He was already planning his lines, counting sets in his head, projecting the season’s take and its worth on the market. And underneath all of these calculations he was considering how he might approach Cassie when he came back to the house in the spring, borne down with furs like a branch ripe with fru
From the Publisher
In elegant, sensual prose, Michael Crummey crafts a haunting tale
set in Newfoundland at the turn of the nineteenth century. A richly
imagined story about love, loss and the heartbreaking compromises -
both personal and political - that undermine lives, River
Thieves is a masterful debut novel. To be published in Canada
and the United States, it joins a wave of classic literature from
eastern Canada, including the works of Alistair MacLeod, Wayne
Johnston and David Adams Richards, while resonating at times with
the spirit of Charles Frazier's Cold Mountain and Cormac
McCarthy's Border Trilogy.
British naval officer David Buchan arrives on the Bay of Exploits
in 1810 with orders to establish friendly contact with the elusive
Beothuk, the aboriginal inhabitants known as "Red Indians" who have
been driven almost to extinction. Aware that the success of his
mission rests on the support of local white settlers, Buchan
approaches the most influential among them, the Peytons, for
assistance, and enters a shadowy world of allegiances and deep
grudges. His closest ally, the young John Peyton Jr., maintains an
uneasy balance between duty to his father - a powerful landowner
with a reputation as a ruthless persecutor of the Beothuk - and his
troubled conscience. Cassie Jure, the self-reliant, educated 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 determination to maintain
her independence. When Buchan''s peace expedition goes horribly
awry, the rift between father and son deepens.
With a poetic eye and a gift for storytelling, Crummey vividly
depicts the stark Newfoundland backcountry. He shows the agonies of
the men toiling towards the caribou slaughtering yards of the
Beothuk; of coming upon the terrible beauty of Red Indian Lake, its
frozen valley lit up by the sunset like "a cathedral lit with
candles"; then retreating through rotten ice that slices at
clothing and skin as they flee the disaster. He breathes life into
the rich vernacular of the time and place, and with colourful
detail brings us intimately into a world of haying and spruce beer,
of seal meat and beaver pelts: a world where the first governor of
Newfoundland to die in office is sent back to England preserved in
"a large puncheon of rum".
Years later, when the Peytons' second expedition to the Beothuks''
winter camp leads to the kidnapping of an Indian woman and a
murder, Buchan returns to investigate. As the officer attempts to
uncover what really happened on Red Indian Lake, the delicate web
of allegiance, obligation and debt that holds together the Peyton
household and the community of settlers on the northeast shore
slowly unravels. The interwoven histories of English and French,
Mi'kmaq and Beothuk, are slowly unearthed, as the story culminates
with a growing sense of loss - the characters' private regrets
echoed in the tragic loss of an entire people. An enthralling story
of passion and suspense, River Thieves captures both the
vast sweep of history and the intimate lives of a deeply emotional
and complex cast of characters caught in its wake.
Many historical events which provided inspiration for the novel
took place around where Crummey grew up. There was a family of
Peytons in the Bay of Exploits who were intimately involved in the
fate of the Beothuk, John the Elder known as a 'great Indian
killer' and his son, John the Younger, attempting to establish
friendly contact. "What set of circumstances would account for this
difference?" asked Crummey. "How would the two men relate to one
another? What would the motivations be for their particular
actions? As soon as a writer begins answering these sorts of
questions in any definitive way, the writing becomes
fiction." Though faithful to historical record in
many details, he imagined ways in which the
characters might participate more fully in each other's story. "Of
course a different writer, or even myself at a different time in my
life, would have imagined a different world of characters and
events, a radically different picture."
About the Author
Michael Crummey was born in Buchans, a mining town in the interior of Newfoundland ("as far from the salt water as you can get and still be in Newfoundland"), second of four boys; he grew up there and in Wabush, another mining town near the Quebec border of Labrador. After completing a BA in English at Memorial University in St. John''s, he moved to Kingston, Ontario to pursue graduate work but dropped out before finishing his Ph. D. He has taught ESL in China and worked at the International Day of Solidarity with the People of Guatemala. Now the author of three books of poetry and a book of short stories as well as a novel, he lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His stories and poems have appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, including twice in the League of Canadian Poets’ annual contest anthology. Crummey “came out of the poetry closet” in 1986 when he entered and won the Gregory J. Power Poetry Contest at Memorial; the $500 award gave him the “mistaken impression there was money to be made in poetry”. In 1994 he won the inaugural Bronwen Wallace Award for Poetry, and his first book of poems was published two years later. Arguments with Gravity , which travels from pre-Confederation Newfoundland to contemporary Central America, won the Writer''s Alliance of Newfoundland and Labrador Book Award for Poetry. His second collection, Hard Light , a retelling of his father’s stories of outport Newfoundland and th
Can you tell us how you became a writer? I don’t know if it’s appropriate to phrase that question in the past tense. It implies I’ve arrived somewhere, when my sense of it is that I’m still working away in the dark. Hoping to be a writer every time I sit down to write. I started seriously writing poems in my first year of university, which was a surprise to me at the time. Don’t remember having any desire to be a writer in high school. For some inscrutable reason, studying poetry in English 1000 triggered a compulsion to write poems myself. I wanted to write something that would make a reader respond in the way I was responding to writers like Sylvia Plath, Leonard Cohen, Ted Hughes, ee cummings, Al Purdy. Everything I wrote in those first few years was monumentally bad. Sometimes I think all that’s different now is that the law of averages is working in my favour. Write enough poetry and eventually some of it won’t suck. After I dropped out of university, I worked at a number of part-time jobs and wrote in my free time. Began publishing in little magazines and journals across the country. I didn’t start writing fiction until my mid-twenties, years after I took up poetry. I wrote short stories for eight or nine years before I finally decided to make an attempt at a novel. Thought I was ready for it, after a long apprenticeship — something close to a real writer finally. That turned out to be a complete misunderstanding of
“Michael Crummey’s River Thieve s 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…
Can you tell us how you became a writer?
I don't know if it's appropriate to phrase that question in the
past tense. It implies I've arrived somewhere, when my sense of it
is that I'm still working away in the dark. Hoping to be a
writer every time I sit down to write.
I started seriously writing poems in my first year of university,
which was a surprise to me at the time. Don't remember having any
desire to be a writer in high school. For some inscrutable reason,
studying poetry in English 1000 triggered a compulsion to write
poems myself. I wanted to write something that would make a reader
respond in the way I was responding to writers like Sylvia Plath,
Leonard Cohen, Ted Hughes, ee cummings, Al Purdy. Everything I
wrote in those first few years was monumentally bad. Sometimes I
think all that's different now is that the law of averages is
working in my favour. Write enough poetry and eventually some of it
After I dropped out of university, I worked at a number of
part-time jobs and wrote in my free time. Began publishing in
little magazines and journals across the country. I didn't start
writing fiction until my mid-twenties, years after I took up
poetry. I wrote short stories for eight or nine years before I
finally decided to make an attempt at a novel. Thought I was ready
for it, after a long apprenticeship - something close to a real
writer finally. That turned out to be a complete misunderstanding
of where things stood. I don't think I've ever felt as over-matched
as I did when I was working on River Thieves. It seems a
bit of a fluke to have finished it. From talking to other writers,
I don't expect to feel differently the next time out either.
What inspired you to write this particular book? Is there a
story about the writing of this novel that begs to be
I grew up in Buchans, a small mining town near Red Indian Lake in
central Newfoundland. Many of the pivotal events that shaped
relations between the Beothuk Indians and European settlers
(including the kidnapping of Mary March and the murder of her
husband in 1819) took place on that lake. Some sense of those
stories has been a part of my life as long as I can remember, and I
expect that the same is true to a greater or lesser degree for most
Originally I was interested in writing about Shanawdithit, the last
known Beothuk, who died in St. John's in 1829. But as I began doing
research, I was drawn more and more to the story of the Peytons,
who played a central role in most of the interactions with the
Beothuk in the decades leading up to their extinction. I was
surprised by the starkly different attitudes father and son
displayed towards the Beothuk. And I began writing a story that
might account for some of those differences.
What is it that you're exploring in this
Well, a number of things I guess. First of all, I'm dealing with
the historical reality of the extinction of an entire race of
people, the Beothuk, who were the indigenous inhabitants of
Newfoundland. I was hoping the novel would give some sense of the
enormity of that loss, and of the surprising (and somehow
appalling) intimacy of the interactions between the Beothuk and the
Europeans in those last decades. But I felt it would be wrong to
write a novel about the Beothuk - to write as if we know
more about them than we do, or to try to give them a voice that is
absent from the historical record. Their absence, to my mind, is
the point. The Beothuk are a shadowy presence in River
Thieves, just as they are in what we know of the past.
The real challenge of the book for me was to explore the "emotional
geography" of those
historical events side-on. Slantways. The European characters in
the novel, the settlers, are completely unable to communicate with
one another, even when they have the best of intentions. Their
interactions are based on false assumptions and bias and
half-truths and misunderstandings. And the consequences of this -
sometimes unforeseen, sometimes not - are usually heart-breaking. I
wanted the part of the novel that is basically a little "soap
opera" between the European characters to throw some light on the
historical drama that is the spine of the book. I tried to avoid
any kind of simplistic one-to-one correlation, but I hope the
different narrative strands mirror one another back and
In the end, River Thieves is a book about regret. For the
individual characters, it's usually regret of a personal nature.
For me, and hopefully for a reader, it goes somewhere beyond that,
encompasses something larger.
Who is your favourite character in this book, and
I've heard writers talk about loving their characters as if they
were real people. Before I started working on the novel I thought
of that as being a bit precious, if not downright loony. Now, I'm
afraid it would be unfair to pick a favourite. That I might hurt
someone's feelings. Jesus.
If I had to pick one character though, it would be Cassie. For the
first time in my life, I had the sense I was writing a character
who was obviously and unquestionably smarter than me. Not
just smarter though. Someone with a wit and an incandescent
intelligence, with personal resources and strengths I don't have at
my disposal. I was happy to find her in there (wherever "there"
might be), and I hope I did right by her.
Are there any tips you would give a book club to better
navigate their discussion of your book?
Would it be too glib to suggest having a few drinks first?
Do you have a favourite story to tell about being
interviewed about your book?
Haven't actually been interviewed about River Thieves
What question are you never asked in interviews but wish
Mmmmm, how about: "Has a review or profile ever changed your
perspective on your work?"
Has a review or profile ever changed your perspective on
No, not really. But I have been surprised by the range of response
to my writing. And it seems more and more true to me that what we
see in a book has as much to say about us as it does about what
we're reading. One reviewer of my book of stories, Flesh &
Blood, called it the most genuinely erotic book he'd read in a
long time, which I found puzzling. A friend of mine concluded this
particular reviewer obviously didn't read much erotica. But since
then other people have commented on the sex as one of the things
that "stands out" in the stories. Obviously it's there. But to a
large extent it's where the reader is coming from that determines
how big a part it plays in their sense of the book. So I think I
feel less ownership of the writing once it's "out there" than I
Which authors have been most influential to your own
I'm not sure how to answer this without it being misleading. I
haven't been as conscious of being "influenced" by fiction writers
as I have been by poets, partly because I came to fiction so much
later and had gone a ways toward establishing a voice of some kind
by then. So I'll just list some writers whose books I've loved and
leave it at that.
Timothy Findley (Famous Last Words, Not Wanted on the
Voyage), Alice Munro (just about anything), Michael Ondaatje
(Collected Works of Billy the Kid, Coming Through
Slaughter), Jeanette Winterson (The Passion), Norman
Levine (I Don't Want to Know Anyone Too Well), Raymond
Carver (Cathedral), Mary Gaitskill (Because They
Wanted To), Cormac McCarthy (now a major motion picture),
Italo Calvino (Invisible Cities), David Adams Richards
(Nights Below Station Street), Alistair MacLeod (The
Lost Salt Gift of Blood), Dostoevsky (The Brothers
Karamazov), Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway, Between the
Acts), Joyce (Dubliners), David Malouf (An
Imaginary Life, Remembering Babylon), Don DeLillo
(Libra), Kenzaburo Oe (An Echo of Heaven). A trio
of non-fiction books about Newfoundland: Cassie Brown's Death
on the Ice, David MacFarlane's The Danger Tree, Wayne
Johnston's Baltimore's Mansion.
Of course this list is ridiculous. It could (and should) be 30 or
40 times longer. 50 times longer. I have a mind like a sieve.
If you weren't writing, what would you want to be doing for
a living? What are some of your other passions in
Here's the sad truth, which causes my mother no end of worry. I am
completely unsuited for anything other than what I'm doing. If this
writing thing doesn't work out I'm in big trouble.
If you could have written one book in history, what book
would that be?
This sounds like one of those "If you were a tree, what kind of
tree would you be?" questions, which I've always been lousy at.
Just not very imaginative I guess (how's that for an admission?).
Let's say I would want to have written one of The Song of
Songs or The Book of Job. Depending on the kind of
day I'm having.