Thursday, September 20, 2012

MAN OF TWO TRIBES by Arthur W. Upfield

On a moonless night there is nothing to be seen of the Nullarbor Plain, or of the railway which crosses it for three hundred and thirty miles without an angle Euclid could detect, nothing of all those square miles of table-flat, treeless land beneath which the aborigines believe, Ganba still lives and emerges at night to hunt for a blackfellow rash enough to leave his own camp fire to lure a wench from her lawful owner. Now were hidden all the caves, the caverns and blow-holes, and the miles on miles of foot-high saltbush searched by Senior Constable Easter and assistants for Myra Thomas, who disappeared from the four-twenty, five weeks and three days prior to this October meeting.

Arthur W. Upfield’s Man of Two Tribes is almost pure setting. The quote above, from the first page, gives a sense of the whole book.

Australian Detective-Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, Bony, investigates a kidnapping. Someone kidnaps a woman recently acquitted of murder. Bony sets off across the Nullarbor Plain of Southern Australia to find the woman.

Bony ends up in a sort of closed-room mystery. In the midst of what seems to be a huge, expansive desert, Bony finds an underground cave occupied by about half-dozen convicted and now paroled murderers. Someone has imprisoned them there. The woman is the first woman among them. And, as you might expect, that upsets the balance.

Aborigines capture Bony and put him in the cave. Then someone murders one of the men in the cave.

The suspects are limited to those in the cave. The motive is seemingly apparent.

Bony sets out to escape from the cave, make his way, with the rest of the group, across the Nullarbor Plain, and find the murderer. He does all three.

Bony is the Man of Two Tribes. He has a white father and an aboriginal mother. At one point, Upfield writes--

“A change had taken place in this man of two races, a change begun by the angry threat of Ganba when at Bumblefoot Hole, and carried forward by the sound of that aircraft. Ever the inherited influence of the two races warred for the soul of Napoleon Bonaparte, and it was the very continuity of this warfare which had created Detective Inspector Bonaparte, and which time and again prevented him from sinking back into the more primitive of the races.”

Arthur W. Upfield’s books are unique among the books I read. They are set in a place I can hardly visualize. They show a way of life I could never know if it weren’t for Upfield, a way of life I suspect is now gone.

These books are available as inexpensive used paperback books from places like Amazon and other used book suppliers. I plan to buy and read as many as I can find.


George said...

I'm in the habit of picking up all the Upfield books I run across in thrift stores and Library Sales. The few I've read, I've enjoyed. I do have a copy of a MAN OF TWO TRIBES. This might be the time to read it after your fine review.

Joe Barone said...

Thanks, George. I very much enjoy the Upfield books.