Saturday, May 4, 2013

MURDER DOWN UNDER by Arthur W. Upfield

Arthur W. Upfield’s Murder Down Under is a traditional Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte mystery.

Bony takes on a local murder. As always, he does so undercover. He takes on the case to help an up-and-coming officer.

Farmer George Loftus disappears after wrecking his car. He was coming home from a night of drunken revelry. He failed to take the right turn. Then he crashed the car into the Australian rabbit fence near the town of Burracoppin. The fence is the longest fence in the world at that time. (This book’s initial copyright is 1938).

As he investigates, Bony runs into a man who specializes in studying serial murders. This man, Mr. Jelly, disappears from home regularly. Bony promises Jelly’s youngest daughter he will find out why her father is always leaving.

From some of the titles of later books, I take it that Mr. Jelly will return in later Bony books.

As always, Bony’s investigation involves patient waiting, astute observation of the most minute things, and skillful tracking.

Upfield spends two-plus pages letting us watch Bony think about ants. Bony watches a group of ants carefully. He describes the different species of ants, their similarities and differences. 

In another place, Bony observes blowflies. And sure enough! These insects come back to be a major clue.

Bony combines the skills of his aboriginal mother and his white father.

The book describes the Australian countryside in detail. It also talks about Australian racism, about how racists underestimate the unique skills of the “inferior” race. Bony is an investigative genius precisely because he came from two different races. He inherited strengths from both.

Bony is both proud and humble. He knows he is the best investigator in Australia. He says that often. But he always works undercover, often gives the credit to lesser investigators, and has no desire for promotion.

He knows he is great, and that’s enough.

These books are unique. This one starts slowly, and unfolds slowly. Only in the last fifty pages or so is there any real action.

Still, the story is compelling. Bony is an iconic character.

Whoever owns the copyright should reprint these books, perhaps in e-book form.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, I remember reading him.

Joe Barone said...

Yes. I ran across him when a local retired Methodist missionary to Australia died. He lived in the same retirement community we live in. His family put a number of his books out for people just to pick up. Among them were two or three Upfields. Now I buy them used on the Internet.