Dust Off the Bones: A Novel (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

Howarth writes of with feeling, giving the reader a sense of the way people lived in the past.  Indigenous people have not been treated well through history.  This is particularly true of Native Americans and Australian Aborigines.  From the beginning, in 1859, Queensland’s Native Police dealt harshly with the Aborigines.  Nobody really wanted to know what measures they used, just get the job done so the settlers could occupy the land and run their ranches without annoyance or protest.  Often those measures were deadly.  Settlers didn’t  think too much about how long the people they were displacing had called this land home.

Dust Off the Bones explores what happens to the two teenaged boys who respond to the tragic murder of their parents by participating in the massacre of Aborigines.  They believed the Aborigines had been involved in the murder, they were following the lead of John Sullivan, the most prominent rancher in the area, and Inspector Edmund Noone leading the Queensland Native Police. What does such cruel and senseless violence do to the souls of the teenagers?  How does it shape the rest of their lives? 

As the story opens, Katherine Sullivan, just a few years older than the McBride boys, is a young widow attracted to Billy.  Tommy fled, he is working in cattle stations accompanied by Arthur, an Aborigine who worked on their ranch.  Nightmares tear Tommy apart, causing his bunk mates to distrust and torment him.  While Billy avoids dealing with the trauma and guilt, Tommy cannot escape it.  Billy roots himself in the land, determined to be successful, he doesn’t look back.  Tommy is mired in the past; circumstances lead him to be secretive and rootless.

Noone scares most people who cross his path, if they are smart.  But a young lawyer, Henry Wells, believes in the rule of law, believes it applies to everyone.  When he learns of the massacre, he initiates a judicial investigation, drawing Noone and Billy into a court of law to relive the events.  Consequences ensue.

History is well served in Paul Howarth’s books. Australia in the early days is vivid, the harsh landscape of Queensland’s ranching community, the miles of wilderness where Tommy and Arthur flee.   But what makes the books special is the characters.  Tommy is such a likeable character, tormented by what he did, but his nature is kind and gentle.  Arthur looks out for him, showing wisdom and forgiveness.  Katherine is a strong woman; she comes into her own as the story progresses.  Billy is brash and bold, with charisma and determination.  Both brothers are fond of horses, bonded to the land, caring deeply about their country. And Officer Edmund Noone?  He may be a close as you can come to true evil.

Howarth explores the injustice of frontier history, the ruthlessness of power, and a quest for honor.  Great book.

— Deon Stonehouse


“Arresting, powerful, and very much worth reading.”—Scott Simon (NPR)

"A tale of violence and redemption in the Australian Outback....Fast-paced and brimming with colorful, realistic detail, the novel poses disturbing questions about the Australia’s historic cruelty to its native inhabitants....A complex, sophisticated morality play."  (Starred Kirkus Review)

The author of the acclaimed Only Killers and Thieves returns to turn-of-the-century Australia in this powerful sequel that follows the story of brothers Tommy and Billy McBride, the widow of their family’s killer, Katherine Sullivan, and the sadistic Native Police officer Edmund Noone

In 1890, estranged brothers Tommy and Billy McBride are living far apart in Queensland, each dealing with the trauma that destroyed their family in different ways. Now 21, Billy bottles his guilt and justifies his past crimes while attempting to revive his father’s former cattle run and navigate his feelings for the young widow Katherine Sullivan. Katherine, meanwhile, cherishes her newfound independence but is struggling to establish herself as head of the vast Broken Ridge cattle empire her corrupt late husband mercilessly built.

But even in the outback, the past cannot stay buried forever. When a judicial inquest is ordered into the McBride family murders and the subsequent reprisal slaughter of the Kurrong people, both Billy and Police Inspector Edmund Noone – the man who led the massacre – are called to testify. The inquest forces Billy to relive events he has long refused to face. He desperately needs to find his brother, Tommy, who for years has been surviving in the wilderness, attempting to move on with his life. But Billy is not the only one looking for Tommy. Now the ruthless Noone is determined to find the young man as well, and silence both brothers for good.

An enthralling, propulsive adventure that builds in suspense, told in gorgeous prose and steeped in history and atmosphere, Dust Off the Bones raises timeless issues of injustice, honor, morality, systemic racism, and the abuse of power. With an unflinching eye, Paul Howarth examines the legacy of violence and the brutal realities of life in a world remarkably familiar to our own.

About the Author

Paul Howarth is a British-Australian author and former lawyer who holds an MA in creative writing from University of East Anglia, where he was awarded the Malcolm Bradbury Scholarship. In 2018 his debut novel, Only Killers and Thieves, was published to international acclaim, winning the Barnes & Noble Discover Award for best fiction, and appearing on numerous other awards and books of the year lists.

Praise For…

"Dust Off the Bones is a terrific sequel to one of my favorite novels of the last few years and takes us in a new and wholly unexpected direction with many of our favorite characters from Only Killers and Thieves. Highly recommended."                                                           —  Adrian McKinty, author of The Chain

“A complex, sophisticated morality play….Fast-paced and brimming with colorful, realistic detail, DUST OFF THE BONES paints a vivid portrait of colonial Australia in the midst of its transition to independence as the 20th century begins while posing disturbing questions about the country’s historic cruelty to its native inhabitants.”                                                       
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Howarth’s sequel to Only Killers and Thieves is as searing and savage as the Australian frontier setting that both novels share… This masterly tale of trauma and retribution is more than worthy of the original.”                                        
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Rich and vivid….Recommended to readers of Kate Grenville, Peter Carey, and Colleen McCullough.” — Booklist

“Engrossing….a riveting, action -packed tale of life in Australia between 1890 and 1910…[with] strong women characters.” — Library Journal (starred review)

“An unsparing exploration of guilt and Australia’s violent origins and also a quest for redemption and peace. It is a measure of Howarth’s skill that the reader wants the McBride boys to reach their goals with such intensity that the book is almost too painful to read. Howarth has been compared to Cormac McCarthy; this pair of books shows the comparison is deserved.”        — The Times (London)

“The villainous Inspector Edward Noone is one of the most compelling antagonists in recent historical fiction…It is testament to Howarth’s skill as a writer that his narrative both engages and challenges in its accomplished depiction of a brutal and violent age.”            — The Guardian

“A gripping tale of adventure [and] a moving account of redemption”. — Sunday Times (London)

Product Details
ISBN: 9780063076006
ISBN-10: 0063076004
Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: June 8th, 2021
Pages: 368
Language: English