Arthur Upfield (1890 – 1964)

2965Arthur William Upfield (1 September 1890 – 13 February 1964) was an Australian writer, best known for his works of detective fiction featuring Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (‘Bony’) of the Queensland Police Force, a half-caste Aborigine. Born in England, Upfield moved to Australia in 1910 and fought with the Australian military during the First World War. Following his war service, he travelled extensively throughout Australia, obtaining a knowledge of Australian Aboriginal culture that would later be used extensively in his written works. In addition to his detective fiction, Upfield was also a member of the Australian Geological Society and was involved in numerous scientific expeditions.

Upfield’s first published book was The House of Cain in 1928. It wasn’t until The Barrakee Mystery that he introduced the character of Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, affectionately known as ‘Bony’. Bony was a mixed blood Aboriginal famous for using technics he learnt in the bush to track down his suspects. Bony is also known as Boney for the American market and was also used in 70’s Australian TV series (“Boney”) which was also distributed overseas in high demand. His Works over the years have been published in several languages such as French, German, Italian often out selling the Australian market. 

Inspector Bonaparte Book Series in order: The Barrakee Mystery (1928);
The Sands of Windee (1931); Wings Above the Diamantina (1936); Mr. Jelly’s Business (1937); Winds of Evil (1937); The Bone is Pointed (1938); The Mystery of Swordfish Reef (1939); Bushranger of the Skies (1940); Death of a Swagman (1946); The Devil’s Steps (1946); An Author Bites the Dust (1948); The Mountains Have a Secret (1948); The Bachelors of Broken Hill (1950); The Widows of Broome (1950); The New Shoe (1951) Venom House (1952; Murder Must Wait (1953); Death of a Lake (1954); Cake in the Hatbox (1955); The Battling Prophet (1956); The Man of Two Tribes (1956); Bony Buys a Woman (1957); Bony and the Black Virgin (1959); Bony and the Mouse (1959); Bony and the Kelly Gang (1960); Bony and the White Savage (1961); The Will of the Tribe (1962); Madman’s Bend (1963); and The Lake Frome Monster (1966).

Further reading: Arthur W Upfield Official Website and Arthur Upfield official site.

Mike Grost on Arthur Upfield: Upfield, a British-born writer who emigrated to Australia, shows clear links with the Freeman-Crofts school of “realistic” detective fiction, and shares many of their key characteristics. There are backgrounds in Upfield’s tales: the detailed description of the Australian outback. There is the detectival pursuit of chains of physical evidence: Bonaparte is an expert at reading clues from the outback, and tracking suspects from them, as well as finding evidence for murder. There is the sympathetic portrait of racial minorities: in this case, the Australian Aborigines. There is a scientific content in the stories: in this case, a look at the ecology of the outback. Finally, there is an occasional use of the inverted detective story invented by Freeman: Upfield’s only short story about Bonaparte, “Wisp of Wool, Disc of Silver” (1948), is an inverted detective tale. It, and the novel it is based on, The Sands of Windee (1931), the second Bonaparte book, also show another Freeman interest: ingenious methods of disposing of a body, so that a charge of murder cannot be brought. Upfield also shows some differences from the Realist school. Upfield’s puzzle plots often turn on misdirection. In this he is closer to Agatha Christie, than to Realist school authors. To continue reading please click here.

I find it always hard, when approaching a new author, to choose the first book I’m going to read. At times it seems clear to start at the beginning in a long series, but it might also be wise to get started reading one of the most well-known. After all, that first experience might condition our future readings. Besides, one may always have time to read afterwards the series in its chronological order, if so one wishes.

Venom House is an interesting crime novel, full of Australian local color that should prove especially interesting to non-Australians.  Upfield has a leisurely and measured narrative style that does indeed remind me of the English Humdrums Freeman Wills Crofts and John Street (Julian Symons thought as much), but Bony, despite his tracking skills, seems more intuitive and less dependent than Crofts’ and Street’s sleuths on material clues.  The book actually is not as viscerally thrilling as I have probably made it sound, but it’s a good tale nevertheless. (The Passing Tramp)


(Source: Facsimile Dust Jacket. Doubleday The Crime Club (USA), 1952)

Venom House is the 16th novel of the Bony series by Arthur Upfield. Bony finds himself in the coastal town of Edison, in south-eastern Queensland, investigating two bodies found in a man-made lake which surrounds the Answerth familys mansion known as Venom House.

The Answerth family’s mansion seems to deserve its nickname of Venom House – perhaps because of its forbidding setting, an island in the centre of a man-made lake, its treacherous waters studded by the skeletons of long-dead trees. Perhaps it’s because of the unquiet ghosts of the Aboriginals slaughtered by the Answerth ancestors. Whatever the reason, most people are content to give Venom House and its occupants a wide berth… until a couple of corpses turn up in the lake. Inspector Bonaparte has a sudden urge to get to knows the Answerths and their charming home much better… (Source: Goodreads).


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