Book Review – Valley Of Smugglers (Bony And The Kelly Gang) – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Sun 04/24/2011 by


VALLEY OF SMUGGLERS. (Also published under the title Bony And The Kelly Gang)

First published – (U.S.) Doubleday – 1960

Second Publisher – (UK) Heinemann – 1960 (under the title Bony Buys A Woman)

Third Publisher – (UK) Pan Books  – 1963

This Edition – Pan Books – Third Printing – 1968

Copyright – Arthur W Upfield – 1960

Again, there are a couple of quirks about this novel.

In this case, I prefer the title used by Doubledays, as it seems the title used for UK and Australian publications ‘seems’ to ‘cash in’ a little on the legend of Ned Kelly, and the story has absolutely nothing to do with the original Kelly Gang from the late 1870’s.

The second quirk is a distinctly personal one for me. This novel is placed in the middle of what was Upfield’s best novels, and with those taken into account, and as good as this one was, it seemed a little ‘corny’ almost, by comparison. That’s not to say it is not as good as those others were, as I distinctly remember really enjoying the novel when I first read it. This writing of a novel about the area where Upfield was living at the time is something he has never done before. All of his novels take their settings from (in the main) fictional places nearby actual areas, or places that can be readily associated with actual places.

By now, Upfield is in his late 60’s early 70’s, and is a little old to be tramping around the vast Australian outback, and he has settled down at a permanent address in Bowral, and this may be an attempt to ‘put Bowral on the map’ so to speak by including places familiar to the locals in this novel.

This novel was set in the fictional place of Cork Valley, this fictitious place being close the actual town of Bowral, where Upfield lived up until his death.

On first impressions, it would look to be an attempt by Upfield to mention something about the original Kelly Gang, that played so large a part in Australian history. However, on reading the book, the only thing that connects this book to the original Kelly Gang is a somewhat tenuous family relationship to one of the families mentioned in this book.

The people in the book are all of Irish descent, and in saying this, there is another tenuous relationship to the original Kelly’s, that being their very distinct wariness, and almost outright hatred of the Police.

Bony has to find a way into this close knit group of families, and does this by pretending to be a minor criminal on the run from the quickly approaching Police, thus seemingly placing him on the same footing as those in the valley.

He assumes the name of Nat Bonnar, again. He is investigating the death of a man from the Customs Department who was sent into the valley under cover to try and obtain evidence that the families in the valley are producing illegal alcohol.

Early on in the novel, while Bony is being closely watched to try and find a flaw in his disguise, there is mention from an old Matriarch that there is a job in the Valley for him picking potatoes, as long as he doesn’t pretend to come from Ulster, indicating two Irish stereotypes, that of mentioning the Northern Ireland Conflict, and potatoes, both in the same breath.

Bony is hidden in a room below the actual house, the third or fourth time he has hidden in a room under the floor, and not counting the number of caves he has hidden in or been placed in.

He is consciously aware that the locals always seem to know when someone is entering the valley, and wonders how they do this, finding out later, and to his benefit, that the bridges are wired to an alarm system, so that when someone turns up, everything about the place is ‘kosher’, and any illegal activities are hidden from prying eyes, one of these being the hiding of television masts, as there was still a licence fee arrangement in place at that time, something carried over from the introduction of television in 1955, 56 until the early seventies.

Bony digs up potatoes for his work, and spends time investigating after hours, a task made doubly difficult as he is always being watched by the suspicious people of two or three families.  There is constant reference to these Irish families, even after having been in Australia for so long, are still loudly against any Political interference by anyone, referring to everybody else as non Irish, and thus, always out to get them. The original Ned Kelly is held in reverence by these people, and murderer that he was, is looked upon as a hero,  only standing up for what was right.

There is a casual mention of ‘airyplanes’ these being a newfangled way of spying on what is happening on the ground below.

There is also a mention of Sputnik, but not as a satellite in orbit, but as a vastly sized heavy object about to crash down on their heads from above, the first use of a real object entering the Australian vernacular.

Upfield has another of his characters mentioning the overseas trips being taken by politicians on the public purse, and that this is a thing that is not only not rare, but is a thing that is expected by the people of the politicians with their snouts in the trough, these trips usually for no real reason, other than for the politicians and their families to take overseas holidays at the taxpayers expense.

One of the characters is wearing an opal ring, and Bony values it as costing more than a hundred pounds, a lot of money in those days, Bony knowing something about opals, alluding to previous cases.

Bony ends up being used as a scout for one of the smuggling trips, and finds out that the group is being trailed, contrary to his wishes, and he has to lose the trailing Customs men, this being to protect his identity, and to also prevent detection of his investigation.

When he cleverly loses the trail, it works in his favour with the families, leading to his further acceptance in the valley.

He is constantly at war with one of the men in the Kelly family who, no matter what, still suspects him.

He traces the illegal still, in, you guessed it, another cave, this in the side of a hill and under a waterfall.

Bony solves the murder, and gets out safely, although the ending is not as good as some of Upfield’s other stories.

Upfield effectively uses the weather and descriptions of the surrounding countryside to enhance the story.

If this novel is read in isolation, it would be an enjoyable read, but placed as it is between novels that are so good, then this novel looks almost as if he rushed it off whilst concentrating elsewhere on his other novels.