Book Review – The Devil’s Steps – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Fri 03/11/2011 by



First published – (U.S.) Doubleday – 1946

Second Publisher – (UK) Aldor – 1948

Third Publisher – (Australia) Invincible Press (Sydney) – 1950 to 1953

This Edition – Arkon (A subsidiary of Angus & Robertson) – 1980 (Grey cover book) This edition also lists Angus And Robertson as

publishing this novel in 1946.

Copyright – Arthur Upfield – 1946

The Second World War had ended, so Upfield crafts this novel around that, while the War and related topics are still fresh in people’s minds, and even so, this novel is still released for the public barely a year after the War has finished, proving that Upfield could ‘get it done’ in a relatively short time.

The title directly refers to a clue in the novel.

During the crime, the perpetrator walked across the grass in the area. As it was before dawn in the depths of Winter, the grass was covered by a layer of white frost. Although those footprints would have been visible as they happened, then as soon as the Sun came up, they would have disappeared. However as the grass is frozen, the grass stems would have broken from the weight of each step, and in this case there was something on the soles of the boots of the ‘walking man’. The grass would have still looked natural for a day or so, until it naturally started to die, but only die in the exact pattern of each boot print, hence leaving an exact image of each step as it was taken, hence the esoteric title for this novel.

The setting for this novel is in the outskirts of Melbourne, possibly in the Mount Waverley area.

Bony is working in this instance for Military Intelligence, for a man who married the daughter of his Brisbane chief, Colonel Spendor.

Because he is in another State, he comes under the jurisdiction of Superintendent Bolt of the Victorian CIB.

He also comes into association with DI Snook, and this is not a very favourable association.

The Second World War has just ended, and there are references to the problem being of a military nature, especially in regard of an escaped high ranking German official of some sort who is trying to resurrect the German ways introduced as part of The Third Reich.

Bony uses his bush ways of investigation, only this time in a city setting.

The title itself is explained away with the laconic brilliance that Upfield uses to describe something that seems so obscure, and yet is so easily explained once Bony works it all out.

There is a mention of a new character, Clarence B Bagshott, an author, and this mention refers to the love they both have for swordfish angling, and there is mention of Bermagui, referring back to the novel, ‘The Mystery of Swordfish Reef’, published by Pan at a later date and, because of that I read it after reading this series of novels a second time, giving me the (incorrect) impression that the sequencing was somehow out of order.

At the end of this investigation, Bony in fact detours via Bermagui with Bagshott for a spot of the swordies, as he calls it.

Bagshott also looks to be the genesis of a character that Upfield thinks best describes himself as an author, jokingly referring to the Bagshott character as one who sells pulp fiction that is not readily accepted as being of any literary value whatsoever.

This is another of those novels where Bony is seemingly out of his natural setting, and hence, perceived to be out of his depth. Upfield again has Bony battling with the prospect of what failure means, and he has effectively woven a story set around the times.