Book Review – The Sands Of Windee – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Tue 09/28/2010 by

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THE SANDS OF WINDEE

First published    Hutchinson and Company (UK) – 1931
First Australian Publisher    Angus and Robertson – 1958
This Edition    Arkon – 1980 (Arkon is a subsidiary of Angus and Robertson)
Copyright        Arthur Upfield

This murder investigation is also set in Western New South Wales. Bony works incognito again, known only to the local policeman, Sergeant Morris, as Detective Inspector (DI) Bonaparte. The character of Bony is still in the process of being constructed. Bony mentions his wife and children back in Banyo, on the outskirts of Brisbane. There is also a reference to his Chief Commissioner back in Brisbane, Colonel Spendor, and how Spendor considers Bony as not even the equivalent of a typical policeman’s bootlace, but is in fact the best detective that there is, due mainly to Bony’s distinct distaste for ordinary day to day Police matters, and his particular ambivalence to higher authority.

It mentions very early in the book just how Bony came by his famous name. He was found at a Mission in his dying mothers arms, his mother being black, his father a long since departed white man. The Roman Catholic Nun and Nursing Sister at the local medical centre who found him named him so when she found him, as a baby, eating pages from one of John Abbot’s four volumes of that huge reference book, The Life Of Napoleon Bonaparte, and, with a wry sense of humour, gave him the same name as the famed Emperor.

Bony works as a horse breaker for a family who run the Station, the Stantons, and there is a long description of how Bony breaks in one of the horses, one that had always proved to be unable to be tamed before this time.

Two of the main characters are named ‘Dot’ and ‘Dash’, inseparable mates who are both rabbit trappers, and roam the countryside, camping out and trapping the rabbits. Dot is an American, and the other is ‘Dash’ Trench, who, as it turns out was an officer in the British army during the war, in this case, World War One.

‘Dash’ Trench ends up married to the Stanton girl, Marion, at the end of the novel.

Trench has a history going back to the First World War, and this history has its own small mystery, also solved at the end of the narrative.

Father Ryan is the local minister and plays a strong minor role in the story, something that turns into a continuing theme in each of the novels, that of having a strong character in a minor role, this character in other books usually being the town’s local doctor.

There was a mention that Bony had just completed a case in Longreach, carrying on from the same mention in his first novel, which makes this the second book in the series, the first mentioning that Bony had to return to Queensland, and the erstwhile Colonel Spendor, so he could be sent out to Longreach to solve this crime. There was also a mention of Barrakee, but no mention of any other investigations that can be traced back.

The same ‘sting ray’ analogy that was in the first novel also appeared in this one.

Upfield has the murderer in this story supposedly committing the perfect murder, disposing of the body, and then the remaining parts of what is left, and Bony, as is the case with most real investigations has to work backwards to discover how the murder was actually committed.

Towards the end of the narrative, there is a very descriptive passage of how Bony outruns a fire, with the help of the horse he had so patiently broken in earlier. This is an excellent description of a raging grass fire, and includes a description of the frenzied behaviour of all types of animals in their quest to escape the raging inferno.

There is a hint at the possibility of Police corruption, as the murdered man turned out to be a Policeman who gave the perception of being corrupt.

This was another good and quite gripping yarn, with no major twists, but the murder was not solved until the last, as seems to be the case in most of these stories. This is a precursor to all of Upfield’s novels, and one of the things that take a while to bubble to the surface is the way he cleverly includes little clues about the investigation, making them sound as if they are just part of the narrative, all these clues finally gelling together at the end as Bony solves the case. Those clues, even though they are mentioned in the narrative, are so cleverly done, that the reader gets the sense that those clues can only be for Bony himself.

In this case, Bony is almost sympathetic towards the person who committed the murder, and then tried to cover it up. Hidden in the passages at the end about the clearing up of the murder in Bony’s discussion with Father Ryan, are a few minor clues that might have been forgotten in the vast bulk of the books Upfield wrote about Bony. He mentions that this case will have to mentioned in official circles as a failure, as Bony wants to protect the identity of the actual murderers accomplice, the murder being committed as a result of self defense, and the killer actually dying in the narrative, effectively tying up all loose ends. The murdered man was in actual fact a criminal himself, so that seems to tie matters up even further.

However, Bony is not all that enamoured at having a failure on his record. We all know that the case has been successfully solved, but it will still look like an official failure, much along the lines of the first novel, in a way.

Bony mentions in one throwaway line that he has been with the Queensland Police Force for sixteen years now, and that this will be his first perceived failure. If we take this in reality, then the case being set in 1924, (that date specifically alluded to earlier in the novel, and then directly mentioned a little later in a note from Colonel Spendor) and if Bony has been in the Service for sixteen years, than that would mean that he joined the Police Service in 1908. Assuming that to be the case, then Bony would have had to have been nearly twenty when he joined, making his date of birth in the mid to late 1880’s, at the latest. This may be muddied a little further when Bony is talking with Marion Stanton, and he mentions that his eldest son is taking his University entrance exams, probably making Bony even older again. As a small amount of detection on my part, this would place Bony in the same generation as the author Upfield himself. This being so, why has Bony no War Service? He would have been of that age. This would throw into doubt the bulk of the remaining Bony novels, and I would put this down to author’s license. All this is a little mystery in itself.

There is an epilogue, and this is three pages devoted to the erstwhile Colonel Spendor himself. We see him as a sort of benevolent dictator, and Bony weaving his subtle magic with him. The Colonel does not believe that Bony has failed, and seems to understand fully well that Bony never fails, so he is confident that Bony has in point of actual fact successfully completed the case. Bony also solves a minor case in Toowoomba on his way back to Brisbane, and the Colonel wants Bony to travel to Longreach to solve a murder out there, a minor anomaly as this seems to have been the case at the end of the first novel and at the beginning of this one.

POST SCRIPT

This is the novel that seemed to break it wide open for Upfield the author, as it details in his novel, the supposed perfect murder, and the way of covering up the dead body.

There was a similar case in reality, and this was a cause of some consternation for Upfield, even though it achieved the desired result of making Upfield a well known author. He was asked to cover the actual case for a newspaper, as a columnist, and from this, his fame grew. He was caught between a cleft stick, and it was a real source of worry for him. In all, this could effectively be called Upfield’s first best seller, so the minor anomalies from the first book can be put down to character building, in the actual sense of the words.

That real crime that followed from the book was made into a wonderful Telemovie.

At Tom Thompsons Official Arthur Upfield site, at this link, there are some details and reviews of this made for TV special.

The full details for the TV special, which also includes a short trailer are at this link.

UpfieldTonyBR

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