Howarth’s impressive debut is a Wild West saga transported to 19th-century Queensland, Australia. Two brothers come of age during a bloody wilderness manhunt against the background of a shameful era in Australia’s racial history.
Brothers Tommy and Billy are the sons of rancher Ned McBride, who’s barely surviving under the thumb of land baron John Sullivan. Sullivan’s local rule is aided by his association with Inspector Edmund Noone, a leader of the Native Mounted Police, which carried out the genocide of Australia's indigenous people. Racial tensions escalate after the two brothers witness a lynching, and soon afterward they find their parents murdered—apparently by their aboriginal stockman Joseph, whose gun is found nearby. They have no choice but to join forces with Noone and Sullivan, who set out to take revenge on Joseph—or on any other tribal people they encounter on the hunt for him. The story deals unflinchingly with the brutality of Australian rule, and the true circumstances of the parents’ murders are ultimately revealed. But the heart of the story is the complicated relationship between the brothers, as Tommy’s developing conscience threatens his bond with the older Billy, who has committed to Sullivan’s cause. One turning point for Tommy is his attachment to an aboriginal woman whose family has been slaughtered by their posse.
While this book has a historical point to make, it also works as a suspenseful mystery and a resonant bildungsroman.