This review was originally posted to Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan and is re-published here with the permission of Bill Selnes
Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte is called to the Lake Eyre region of northern South Australia about 700 km north of Adelaide. At the remote Mount Eden homestead Mrs. Bell, cook and housekeeper, has been murdered and her 7 year old daughter, Linda, has been abducted.
All attention has been focused on finding Ole Fren Yorky an itinerant stockman with a great fondness for strong liquor whose tracks were found leading away from the yardsite. Bony is suspicious when Aboriginal trackers cannot find where Yorky has gone. How do a man and a child disappear even in a vast wilderness? The limited locations of water in the desert are well known.
To find out what has happened Bony pursues information with the local group of aborigines headed by the blind Canute. There are fascinating descriptions of Aboriginal gatherings and storytelling.
Bony, half Aboriginal, is drawn into the local Aboriginal relationships. The aged Canute owns Meena, a young woman, promised to him by her mother, Sarah, when Meena was a baby. Meena and Charlie, a young member of the group, are interested in each other but denied a relationship because Meena is already owned.
Bony sets out on a personal inspection of Yorky’s fence line inspection route along Lake Eyre. Riding a horse he proceeds from camp to camp, sometimes days apart, where Yorky has stashes of food. It is a time when distance was measured by how far a horse could travel during a day.
Lake Eyre is a grim forbidding expanse of mud surviving even a multi-year drought.
Bony demonstrates his accomplished tracking skills though he acknowledges the far greater skills of the aborigines. Bony’s keen skills at observation and interpretation are far different from modern police who rely heavily on forensic equipment and tests. In his ability to obtain information from scrutiny Bony reminds me of Sherlock Holmes.
Once again Bony must deal with both blackfellow law and whitefellow law.
The language is occasionally patronizing of the Aboriginal people. The language would be unacceptable in current literature. Lacking any personal knowledge of Australia of the 1950’s it does remind me of the actual language and attitudes of Canadians toward Canadian Indians when I was a young boy.
While the language is not politically correct there is more respect for Aboriginal people and the culture than condescension.
Anthony Boucher in a 1957 review of the book in the New York Times said:
“The complex half-caste Bony is, I think, my favorite fictional detective of the past twenty years; and he’s never appeared in a novel richer in adventure, suspense, local color, folklore and absorbingly studied contrasts in cultures”.
I enjoyed again how the mystery was a part of the culture and the land and the era in which it was set. It is an Australian story. Each time I read a Bony book I learn more about rural Australia of generations past. It was shortlisted for the 1958 Edgars.
This book was originally published in 1957 and in the UK was published as BONY BUYS A WOMAN