Book Review – Murder Must Wait – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Fri 04/15/2011 by



First published – (U.S.) Doubleday – 1953

Second Publisher – (UK) Heinemann – 1953

Third Publisher – (UK) Pan Books  – 1958

This Edition – Pan Books – Third Printing – 1971

This novel is set on the northern bank of the Murray River, in lower central NSW, and here, Bony investigates the disappearance of three babies in the local area.

He has been seconded to the New South Wales (NSW) Police , and is working for Superintendent Canno of the NSW CIB.

Immediately upon arrival in the town, the local policeman, who, following Upfield’s now well established formula, has his career enhanced by the visit of Bony, is called away to another baby snatching, only this time, it is accompanied by the murder of the mother of the child.

This is the first occasion where Bony has been immediately on the spot at the commission of an original murder, as this time, his main investigation was the disappearance of the babies, and not murder.

The most important thing in this tale is the recovery of the missing babies, hence the wording of the title, ‘Murder Must Wait’.

There is only one mention of another case and that is where Bony waited in an unfurnished house and in an unlit room, resting with his back to the door, for the murderer to come to him, and this has no reference to any of the earlier Upfield novels, even though the situation is somewhat similar to what happened in a couple of them where Bony caught the murderer whilst in the act of attempting a further murder.

For this description of that earlier occasion, Bony had to wait for three hours only, and the murderer finally did come to him, requesting that he be taken into custody.

As this investigation directly involves the disappearance of babies, Bony is seemingly out of his depth, and so he contacts Superintendent Bolt in Victoria, who sends him First Constable Alice McGorr as an assistant for Bony. She just happens to be Bolt’s adopted daughter, and there is an explanation how that came about. She is a down to earth person, and an able assistant for Bony, and in fact is a situation Upfield reintroduced in some of his subsequent novels.

It happens that the babies are being snatched from so called undeserving mothers by the local aboriginal tribe. A couple of white Anthropologists, who have an interest in some aspects of Aboriginal culture have discovered an aboriginal Dream Time story, about where babies come from, and are running a sort of illegal adoption agency for couples who can not have a baby of their own. This dream Time story is explained in some detail in the text, further indicating that Upfield did in fact research in some depth another aspect of Aboriginal Culture, which he details in some depth here.

There is a direct mention of another aspect of aboriginal culture, that of the Kurdaitcha Man. This is the first direct mention of this man of legend by its own name, and Upfield also details the methods this ‘being’ uses to avoid detection, again another area where Upfield has introduced specific aspects of aboriginal culture.

The local anthropologists think that they can easily outwit this half caste Detective Inspector, because they believe that they know and understand aboriginal culture better than this mere policeman. Bony proves that they in actual fact are no match for him.

The story most evocatively explains aboriginal culture, the local surroundings, and, using modern and ancient methods, Bony solves both crimes, much to the continuing amazement of Alice McGorr, not used to these methods, and more used to the modern way of doing Police work.

There is also a pointed reference to the pointing of the bone, another aspect of aboriginal culture, albeit a minor aspect.

Aboriginal culture has been explained in great detail in this novel.

Upfield has again demonstrated his research, and his knowledge of the culture of the aborigines is not only as a passing gesture, but has been intricately woven into the fabric of the novel without the reader noticing that it has been. In this novel, this is not just a passing reference, but virtually the whole story.

This is again another of those beautifully crafted Upfield novels, and is the beginning of a period of writing where he explores aboriginal culture in even greater depth. The clever thing about the way he has done this is not obvious or overt, as it is blended into the structure of the novel without the reader actually realising that the whole novel revolves completely around aboriginal culture.