Book Review – Venom House – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Thu 04/14/2011 by



First published – (U.S.) Doubleday – 1952

Second Publisher – (UK) Heinemann – 1953

Third Publisher – (UK) Pan Books  – 1977

This Edition – Pan Books – First Printing – 1977

Copyright – Arthur W Upfield – 1953

This novel is set on the border of Queensland and NSW, on the Queensland side, and is close to the ocean, ostensibly set in the region between Brisbane and the Gold Coast. Having been a resident of that area for many years in the Sixties, and later for many more years, it does not sound like any place in that vicinity, and it is sparsely populated, something not really all that common, even for the time setting of this novel, in the mid 50’s.

Knowing as I do the area fairly well, then if this book was written at the time indicated by the original publishing date, it could reasonably be assumed to be centred around the area immediately to the east of around the Beenleigh area, and even so, it doesn’t sound like anywhere I know.

This is one of the few occasions where Bony is actually conducting an investigation in his home State of Queensland.

Bony has been dispatched by Colonel Spendor to solve the murder of two local identities, both found drowning in a moat like lake surrounding the house in question, which seems to be on an island formed after the river was unsuccessfully diverted a long time ago.

Again, Bony is met by a hard driving youth in an old bomb of a car with no clutch and no brakes, and this youth is also wearing a cap, only facing backwards, another example of how something perceived as being a recent fad has roots long in past years, as Upfield has been mentioning this in his novels from virtually the first of them, published way back in 1929.

There is no mention of any other cases, and Bony works in the full knowledge that everyone knows he is a Police Detective Inspector. He also keeps in relatively constant touch with the local policeman, and this also is another of those occasions where he enhances local Policeman’s career.

Again, he shows his knowledge of, this time, the wool industry, and he again uses current forensic investigation techniques along with his own abilities to solve a difficult case.

There is mention in this book of the original people in this district, those who set up this farm and built the original house. They treated the local aborigines so badly that Bony is led to believe that the whole family has had the bone collectively pointed at them.

At the culmination of the novel, there is a further murder, that directly leads into the solving of this investigation.

This is a novel which is almost dark in its nature, a departure from the normal Upfield ‘formula’ we have become used to with his earlier novels. In this story, most of the characters are malevolently sinister in nearly every respect, and we see Bony using some psychological techniques in the quest to find the murderer, something not canvassed in those earlier novels.

There is another of those characters who is old, and assists Bony, this character again being of the salt of the earth, an outback persona in a different setting. This character is a hard man, often prone to foul language, always seeming to be grumpy, but in actual fact, the description is fitting of people who actually existed, and were met by Upfield in his extensive travels.

The descriptive way Upfield has used the surroundings and the direct area of mention only add to, and enhance this sinister tale of malevolence, possibly one of Upfield’s darker novels, but still excellent in the treatment of the story line.