CAKE IN THE HAT BOX, Arthur Upfield

This review was first posted on Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan and is reproduced here with kind permission from blogger Bill Selnes.

When in Launceston, Tasmania last year I was looking for Australian mysteries and came across the Pan paperback edition featuring a cover photo of James Laurenson from the “Boney” television series of the 1970’s. The story was written and takes place in the 1950’s.

            It is set in the wild and remote Kimberley ranges of northwestern Australia. Detective Inspector, Napoleon (“Bony”) Bonaparte, because of plane trouble is forced to stay in Agar’s Lagoon. While there the local police officer, Constable Stenhouse, is found murdered and his aborigine tracker, Jackie Musgrave, is missing and presumed to be the killer.

            The investigation takes Bony into the rugged lands of the ranges talking to the widely scattered families on their stations. It takes tough men and women to survive in this country.

            It is a rare man who is not a hard drinker. The town is noted for being surrounded by a ring of empty liquor and beer bottles. Too expensive to return they are dumped.

            Bony is an anomaly in the Australia of the 1950’s. Half aborigine he has gained a position of importance and respect in the white world. In the northwest Australia of that time the aborigines are divided between the station blacks (workers and servants for the white settlers) and the wild blacks (still existing off the land).

            While the whites use radio transmitters the blacks take to the air with smoke signals that efficiently communicate messages between camps.

            As Bony investigates he becomes aware there is a parallel black investigation taking place. It was fascinating to read of the black justice system.

            Travel is slow and difficult. There could not have been a greater contrast with Mission to Chara. Bony averages 3-10 mph with stops for tea and conversation. There is a measured pace to the investigation. In Mission Colonel Phinney was traveling over 2,500 mph with decisions being made in seconds. There is less time for reflection in the 21st Century.

            It was an excellent story with a murder and solution rooted in the land of northwest Australia. In contrast to the stretched out novels of our age the book was 175 pages. I am going to search out more Bony stories. (Mar. 2/11)

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WHILE APPRECIATING COMMENTS FROM ALL VISITORS I WOULD BE VERY INTERESTED IN COMMENTS FROM AUSTRALIAN VISITORS ON THE BONY BOOKS 50 TO 80 YEARS AFTER BEING WRITTEN AND THE T.V. SERIES CLOSE TO 40 YEARS AFTER THE SHOWS WERE TELEVISED.

You might like to visit Bill’s blog to leave a comment on his original post, but also feel free to leave it here.

4 thoughts on “CAKE IN THE HAT BOX, Arthur Upfield

  1. Thanks for this contribution Bill. I have a couple of Upfields on my shelves that I intend reading this year. in 2009 I wrote a Forgotten Books post about VENOM HOUSE that may interest you. I also referred to the fact that Australians today may feel a little embarrassed with attitudes to aborigines.

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  2. Kerrie – Thank you for the comment. I enjoyed reading your Forgotten Books post. Canadian history shows how often we have shabbily treated Indians and other indigenous people. In aboriginal law our courts, dealing with Indian land clims, have referred often to the Mabo decision.

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  3. I have listened to Clue of the New Shoe & The Bachelors of Broken Hill, both audio books that kept us awake and alert driving from SA to NSW. These were our introduction to Arthur Upfield and his Bony character. The descriptions of locations are evocative and the characters, including Bony are well-rounded and filled with phrases of the era. We have already ordered more from the library as they seem difficult to buy. Aussi Private Eyes and detectives (fictional) are worth digging up as they are a unique insight into our culture.
    Sue F

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