Review: Dust Off the Bones by Paul Howarth

Title: Dust Off the Bones by Paul Howarth
Publisher: Harper
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss


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.


Dust Off the Bones by Paul Howarth is a chilling novel set in the isolated Australian outback.

Billy and Tommy McBride lost their family and then so much more after they participated in the massacre of the Kurrong people close to their home.  Native Police Officer Edward Noone has a long, dark history of murdering the Aboriginal people and he threatens the then teenagers to keep quiet about what happened. Fast forward several years and Billy is married to their widowed neighbor Katherine Sinclair who owns a prosperous cattle station. Tommy tries to outrun his memories by venturing far from home with his Aboriginal friend Arthur. Noone is accountable to no one until eager young solicitor Henry Wells attempts to right the terrible wrong.

Billy takes over running Katherine’s cattle station and they prosper despite the harsh weather and drought. Billy is hard man who drinks too much and has high expectations for his sons. Katherine loves him enough to put up with his flaws but there are limits to her patience. Billy proclaims his innocence throughout the sham trial, but will his marriage survive the shocking revelations?

Tommy is haunted by what they did to the Kurrong. But he is more frightened of what Noone will do to him so he runs as far from Billy as he can. Arthur is a good friend to Tommy but there is only so much he is willing to do for his friend. Tommy manages to keep his memories and fear at bay but when pushed to his limit, will he finally face up to his past?

Dust Off the Bones is a harrowing novel that shines a light on the horrific history of Australian treatment of the Aboriginal people. The setting paints a vivid portrait of the desolation and harshness of the scrublands and the vast countryside. The storyline does not pull any punches when it comes to police and legal corruption of the time period. The various characters are extremely well-drawn with realistic foibles and unexpected strengths. With unanticipated twists and clever turns, Paul Howarth brings this riveting novel to a surprising, yet completely satisfying, conclusion.

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Filed under Dust off the Bones, Fiction, Historical, Paul Howarth, Rated B+, Review

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