Thursday, March 19, 2015


The Barrakee Mystery (1928) is the first of Arthur W. Upfield’s Australian Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) books.

The book tells Bony’s history--the circumstances of his birth, his attitude toward mixed-race assignations, the way he became a detective in the Criminal Investigation Bureau in Queensland, and the reason he is so driven to succeed.

In The Barrakee Mystery, Bony goes to New South Wales to investigate the murder of King Henry, a Western Australian aborigine.

From the start, we know the name of the man who migrated to New South Wales to murder King Henry. Bony’s investigation leads him to understand the unexpected circumstances surrounding the murder.

If this sounds routine, that’s because what makes this book unique is its detailed setting (including a terrible flood), the personality of its white-aboriginal mixed-race hero, the human feeling in the story, and the way the story mirrors its time.

At several points, Bony reflects what modern people may see as the racism in the book.

“Bony was intensely moral. The loose-living customs of the civilized aborigines, and the majority of white people as well, found no favour in the man who tried to pattern his life on that of his hero [Napoleon Bonaparte].”

In other words, Bony doesn’t like mixed-race (or mixed-class) assignations, even the mixed-race affair which brought him into the world. He considers mixing races immoral. He even describes the physical changes he believes mixed-race people undergo as they grow older.

But remember, the year is 1928. Upfield’s whole story is built on the mixed-race premise.

Did that bother me? No. I saw the book as authentic, skirting what we would today call political correctness to tell the truth of its time.

I love the Bony books. I came to know Bony when I found several old Bony paperbacks on a library discard table.

You can only imagine how excited I was to discover all the Upfield books published as e-books on the Kobo Reader.

Thanks to Kobo, if you read this blog, you will be hearing more from me about Bony.
P.S. I've seen at least two publication dates for this book, 1928 and 1929. I took Fantastic Fiction's date.


George said...

I've read a couple of UPFIELD's mysteries. There's about a dozen of his books on my shelf. I should read another one soon. Nice review!

Joe Barone said...

Thanks, George. I stumbled onto Upfield. I enjoy his Bony books.