Book Review – An Author Bites The Dust – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Sat 03/12/2011 by



First published – (U.S.) Doubleday – 1948

Second Publisher – (Australia) Angus And Robertson – 19483

This Edition – Arkon (A subsidiary of Angus & Robertson) – 1980 (Grey cover book)

Copyright – Arthur Upfield – 1948

This novel is set in Victoria, around the base of Mt. Donna Buang, out near Warburton, and Upfield again describes the beauty of the area.

The local Policeman in this District dabbles in painting, and has one of his own paintings of that mountain in his office.

Bony works in his capacity as as a DI with the full knowledge of some of the participants. He has again been seconded by Superintendent Bolt of the Victorian CIB, and again he also comes into contact with Snook, who actively tries to belittle Bony’s methods.

Bony again uses the methods he employs in his ‘bush’ investigations, again in a city setting, as this area is almost an outer suburb of the State Capital, Melbourne.

Following on closely from the direct previous novel to this one, Clarence B Bagshott is mentioned as the author of what is loosely termed as ‘pulp fiction’, and it is even referred to as being that in the late 40’s, the setting for this novel.

This again is Upfield having a polite little ‘dig’ at himself, being a fellow author, although not in the perceived league of the literary society who make up the core of this investigation, those authors who class themselves as authors of literature, as opposed to Bagshott being an author of junk fiction.

This looks to be an even more pointed reference than the small reference in that previous novel. Upfield has an obvious dig at the so called literary circle in general, those who prefer university educated novelists who write esoteric stuff that they, as a literary society will accept, and passing over fictional novels that actually do sell, and keep the authors in some sort of financial comfort, as being not worthy of any mention at all, Bagshott being held in patently obvious disdain by this particular literary circle.

With the mention of Bagshott also comes a further reference to swordfish angling.

As he is working incognito with some of the characters, there is a reference to other times that Bony has assumed alias’ in other cases.

These include other identities that he has adopted. These include that of a Swagman, a wealthy cattleman, an opal buyer, an Insurance agent, a drummer, and even as an Indian Rajah.

None of these other assumed identities has surfaced in any of the novels published to date.

What brought this up is that Bony uses an alias as an author over in Australia from South Africa. He uses the ruse that he works for a newspaper in Johannesburg to get an appointment with a journalist for a Victorian newspaper company, and is caught out to the extent that this female reporter remembers him as a Detective Inspector, such is his reputation.

Again, a theme from earlier novels also surfaces here, as Bony helps to further the career of the local policeman, Constable Simes.

Bony uses his contacts to gain knowledge from places outside Australia, and also flies off to Sydney in the middle of the case to further his investigation.

Another indicator of Upfield’s knowledge of Police procedures is that he has Bony employing the use of the latest forensic technology to assist him in this case, using a doctor, and a Professor of medicine for help in this investigation.

The murder is ingeniously committed with the use of a substance known as ‘coffin dust’, and here Upfield is quite specific, quoting actual data on the matter, and using a recognised South American authority who speculated on the use of this media as a method of killing people, this however being more of a theoretical nature than proven in actual fact. Bony actually contacts the South American in the quest to find out the cause of the death.

This investigation is very effectively wound up in the last couple of pages, with a further impolite dig at the literary society.

This is another sterling example of Upfield’s craft, cleverly combining many facets into the single jewel.