Book Review – Death Of A Lake – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Sat 04/16/2011 by



First published – (U.S.) Doubleday – 1954

Second Publisher – (UK) Heinemann – 1954

Third Publisher – (UK) Pan Books (In association with Heinemann)  – 1956

This Edition – Pan Books – Fourth Printing – 1975

This is the only Upfield novel that has a dedication in it, this being to James L Hole.

Bony travels to the fictitious Lake Otway to solve the disappearance of Ray Gillen. Gillen won a half share in a lottery in Queensland, his share being 25,000 Pounds, a fortune in those days.

There is no real place called Lake Otway, but it could vaguely resemble Lake Eyre in South Australia, as the closest major town to this lake mentioned here is Menindee, the closest major town at the time to Lake Eyre.

Gillen vanished without letting anyone know where the money was, so all the people are waiting for the lake to dry up, thus hopefully revealing his skeleton, and a clue to where the money is. The assumption is that Gillen drowned somewhere on the lake while it contained plenty of water, and now, during an extended drought, the lake is slowly drying up, somewhat similar in nature to what does happen at Lake Eyre. Lake Eyre in fact usually shows the opposite of this, as is it is a dry lake more often than containing water.

This is a tale of intrigue, with a love interest fostered between some of the men and both a mother and her daughter, who also want a slice of the money, if it exists at all. Everyone is plotting against each other, mother and daughter included.

Bony again is working under cover, incognito, as a horse breaker,something Upfield himself was quite adept at, one of the many jobs he had during his many years in the Australian bush.

Gillen’s  disappearance has now lasted three years.

Bony again uses his aboriginal abilities to solve this case. This case is not a murder per se, because it was assumed that Gillen drowned whilst swimming in the lake late on one very hot evening.

The money that Gillen won legally was assumed by all in the story to be stolen, so there were numerous plots to steal this money from the now dead Gillen, this second theft assumed to be lawful, as the money was supposedly stolen in the first place.

Bony solves the case, after the mother is murdered by the daughter late in the story in a house fire which she set, and then alluded to its being an accident.

This case effectively showed the wiles used by a pretty, and young woman, thinking that her charms can overcome any obstacle in the form of a mere male.

There is again an evocatively set stage, culminating in a rabbit rush of plague proportions towards the end of the story, the third occasion Upfield has described this event.

This is another novel that holds your interest right to the end.

There is no mention of the local police until right near the end, when they turn up to investigate the death of the mother in the house fire.

There is a mention that Gillen served in the war, this time in Korea, again dating the book to post 1951.

There is a seemingly obscure reference that intrigued me, until I found out the actual meaning, and that was a mention that Bony took his old and tattered ‘Charles Garvice’ to his room. Originally, I suspected that this may have been the brand name of the fur felt hats worn at the time.

There is a direct reference to both Venom House and also The Widows Of Broome, placing this novel after those two.

There is also mention of a saying, ‘it’s gonna be good’, and Bony remembered it from nine years previously in reference to watching a fight between two factions of an aboriginal tribe. This could be a reference to the big fight at Barrakee in the first of the Bony novels, but this was prior to 1929, nearly 25 years previous to this.

Of real interest here when taking it in the context of when the novel was written is the mention of the use of solar power, or as it mentions in this book, using the suns heat to generate power, and how the capitalists would never allow it. All this from a novel first written back in the early 1950’s.


Both of these postscripts deal with matters that have been resolved from the reading of the Jessica Hawke book.

In respect of the reference to the dedication to James L Hole at the front of this novel, James Hole was a property owner of a large Station that Upfield must have visited often in the times before he became an author, and also visited often after he became an author. It seems to have been that during the time he was employed by Hole as a boundary rider, or out station resident, Upfield spent a lot of his free time writing, and he must have kept in regular contact after he became widely read, this dedication possibly coming upon the death of Hole, who was a long term friend of Upfield, one he held in great regard.

With reference to the line in the book that mentions Bony taking his old and battered ‘Charles Garvice’ to his room, I later discovered from reading the Jessica Hawke book that there was an author of that name, and that Upfield was reading this authors books as early as 1912 when he was a boundary rider working in the area around Wilcannia, and has included this as another of the things that Upfield did himself, and then had his character Bony doing the same also, so this is in reference to a novel, and not a fur felt hat, as I first thought. Charles Garvice in fact was an English author who wrote more than 150 novels, nearly all of them Romance Novels. His novels were also huge sellers in the US, and from 1910 till his death in 1920 Garvice was selling more than 1.5 million books a year, something unheard of at the time. Despite his huge success, Garvice was poorly received by literary critics, and even having sold more than possibly 20 million books, he remains virtually anonymous in this age.

This also highlights another of those things I have mentioned earlier, that of men on the ‘tramp; in the vast Australian bush having books with them as they travelled. When they met up with others also tramping the bush, it was quite often the normal case that there was an exchange of books so that travellers always had something new to read at the time.