Someone kills a troublemaker at Karwir station in the Australian outback. Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) travels there to solve the crime.
Early on, Bony knows what happened. His challenge is to survive to prove it.
The Kalchut tribe “bones” the detective, puts him under an aboriginal curse. Because Bony’s mother was aborigine, the curse takes hold, and Bony begins to waste away.
If Bony survives the curse and exposes the killer, he endangers the tribe, makes it so they will be forced into civilization and changed forever.
The tribe had cursed him, not for their own reasons, but to protect a settler who is helping them survive. All of this also involves the old man who owns Karwir station and his beautiful daughter.
What interested me about the book is Bony’s reaction to the curse. He knows it is happening. He knows it will kill him unless he gives up and leaves the area immediately. But he refuses to give up.
At one point, he explains himself to his ally Sergeant Blake--
“No, Sergeant, I couldn’t bear failure. Being what you are, you could never clearly understand what I am. You have no conception of what I am, what influences are ever at war within me. Once I failed to finish an investigation, I could no longer hold to the straw keeping me afloat on the sea of life, beneath the surface of which the sharks of my maternal ancestry are forever trying to destroy me...
“Don’t for one moment think that I despise my mother’s race. At a very early age I was offered a choice. I could choose to be an aboriginal or a white man. I chose to become the latter, and have become the latter with distinction in all but blood. To fail now would mean to lose everything for which I have worked, and the only thing which enables me to cling to what I have is my pride.
“You can’t know of the eternal battle I fight, to lose which means for me and mine what we should regard as degradation; my family and I should fall to that plane on which live the poor whites and the outcast aborigines. Failure! No. Surrender to the fear of death by boning! No. The white man might say, surrender. My wife, who understands, would say no. And so, Sergeant, I must go on. I must for the first time triumph over the absence of my greatest asset [his willingness to take however much time it takes to solve a case]. I must work against time as well as against the insidious mental poison now beginning to be administered.”
In other words, his record of never having failed in an investigation is important to his survival. It is more than an unbroken record. It is who he is and who he sees himself to be.
As always, Upfield’s descriptions are breathtaking (including a description of a massive rabbit migration).
The Bony books are almost impossible to describe. If you haven’t tried one, you might want to consider reading at least The Bone is Pointed.