Arthur W Upfield’s Novels – Three Non Bony Related Novel Reviews

Posted on Mon 10/18/2010 by

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In the process of compiling all this information, I was intrigued by those novels that Upfield wrote that were not related to his Bony character, so I made the decision to see if I could locate these titles and read them. Luckily, the Public Library system is quite good here in Australia. From the list of all those 6 titles, I actually could obtain three of them, and over time I did this. My opinion was slightly coloured because of the extensive knowledge I had of the Bony character. Two of the novels were indeed related to Crime Fiction, and in the back of my mind was always the thought of how Bony would handle something like this, but they were still worthwhile reading them, if only for a different perspective on Upfield.

GRIPPED BY DROUGHT

This novel affords a unique insight into the earlier Upfield, and his struggle to find a writing style he was comfortable with. This novel was written after he had already had two books published about his Bony character, and also two non Bony related novels, so his skills as a writer were becoming more polished.

As a novel in itself, it is quite a good read. The language is somewhat stilted and it looks as if Upfield is trying to extend himself as an author, and not to try and keep writing in the Crime Fiction genre. In places, he has used characterisations that he later introduced into some of his Bony novels.

Two of the most noticeable are his descriptions of rain falling after a long period without rain, an evocative description in this novel, and one he was used later in a Bony novel, and then further expanded upon this description.

The second thing that was used later in a couple of Bony novels is a complicated description of a rabbit trapper at work around a waterhole. This was also accompanied by a diagram, and Upfield cleverly explains exactly how the trapper went about his work.

It looks like Upfield here is struggling with what is ostensibly a love story, but one that has gone wrong when someone is introduced to the Outback, a person totally unsuited to being there.

It is a fairly good story of itself, but that ever present thought that Bony is about to appear somewhat detracts from the reading.

BREAKAWAY HOUSE

The novel is one that was not published when it was first written, but lay undiscovered until long after Upfield’s death.

This novel is also a Crime Fiction novel, and was also written around the time that the Bony character was just starting to take the shape that it did. Upfield uses the same style of investigation that his character Bony would use, but it seems somehow odd when you know that this is in fact a white policeman who is doing the investigation.

You could almost superimpose Bony over the top of the main character, Harry Tremayne, and having said that, I often caught myself out doing just that. Upfield again treats the Aborigines quite sympathetically in this novel, and I am tempted to believe that all along, Upfield was quite unfairly tarred with wrong brush altogether over the way he wrote about the aborigines. Here, the thought might have been of an author using the aboriginal angle to further his own career, and on first reading this would seem to be the case, but now having read all the Bony novels and a couple of his others, it looks as if critics of Upfield for doing this have taken some of the things completely out of the context that they were written in. It also smacks of imposing today’s values on what was the commonplace thought and action at that time. When viewed in this context, it seems that Upfield might just have been pretty radically minded for his time in the way that he was sympathetic towards the aborigines, and the way that they were treated.

This last, unpublished at that time, novel, Breakaway House looks to have been placed on the backburner once his Bony character took off into full flight, and you can see why. I even wonder if Upfield himself was not tempted himself to alter the novel completely by rewriting it in full, transposing Bony for Harry Tremayne.

It is a good, tight Crime Fiction novel, and you can see Upfield’s style developing. The fact that it laid undiscovered for so long only strengthens the belief that Upfield was satisfied with his Bony character, and that the release of this novel would have been seen as doing exactly the same thing that he was already doing, only with a white Detective.

It makes you wonder that had not the character Bony taken off with The Sands Of Windee, and the way that the plot of that novel was used in an actual murder, would Upfield have continued in the genre, using Harry Tremayne as his main character. I feel that as readers, we can be thankful that he persevered with Bony and it became Upfield’s defining character.

THE GREAT MELBOURNE CUP MYSTERY

This novel again was published at a much later date, because it was never published in book form at the time of writing. Upfield, while working as a journalist covering the Snowy Rowles murder case was then asked to compose a serial for his Melbourne newspaper, and as Melbourne is the home of the famous Melbourne Cup horse race, the paper asked him to do this serial along the lines of the kidnapping of one of the horses, and how it was tracked down. As crime fiction, when compared to his Bony novels, this is quite bland as a story, and there is the distinct impression that this was not written by the same author who gave us Bony.

It was quite an average story really, but for perspective on Upfield as an author it was worth reading for that fact alone.

One thing that I did notice about these first two mentioned novels. Having all of the Bony books in one place led me to try and obtain some, or maybe even all, of the originals in hard cover. This idea led me to a site on the Internet that deals in the second hand book market. The site shall remain nameless, but it did intrigue me somewhat. I noticed that quite a lot of the Bony books have been passed off as being originals in hard cover, and knowing the original release dates, I was quite surprised to see that some of the novels are being passed off as original hard back releases long after they were first published. These first mentioned novel, Gripped By Drought was picked up by Dennis McMillan Publishing, along with those other three early non Bony titles, in the late eighties and early nineties. They were then re released in hard cover, and now these are being passed off as first editions. As such, they have an increased value, and some of these copies are priced upwards of eight hundred dollars, the thought being that they might in fact be the original Published versions, which they weren’t.

I obtained the copies of those above titles I have read through the Queensland Library system, and somewhat intrigued, I wondered at their prospective quoted values.  Knowing closely of Upfield’s writing career, it seems to me that these prices are much overstated, possibly due to the fact that Dennis McMillan might only have released these novels on a limited basis.

Trying to track down original releases of Upfield’s novels is quite another thing altogether. I would desperately like to find an originally released copy of The Barakee Mystery, but I suspect that this is but a dream. Having said that, the next one that I would like to find would be The Sands Of Windee, but this might also prove to be a task that is beyond me.

UpfieldTony

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