Book Review – Madmans Bend – Arthur W Upfield

Posted on Tue 04/26/2011 by


MADMAN’S BEND. (Also published under the title The Body At Madman’s Bend)

First published – (U.S.) Doubleday – 1963 (Published under the title The Body At Madman’s Bend)

Second Publisher – (UK) Heinemann – 1963

Third Publisher – (UK) Pan Books  – 1966

This Edition – Pan Books – Fourth Printing – 1974

Copyright – Arthur W Upfield – 1963

This novel is set on the banks of the Darling River, beyond the back of Bourke, literally, the title gaining its name from the way the river flows.

Because of floods and drought, the river changes course throughout its lifetime. The course the river might have taken prior to a flood can be changed when the floodwaters take the path of least resistance. The previous area, which may still contain water then becomes a billabong, which is the setting for the title.

What is now a billabong area is a swampy marshland, a twisting and turning wasteland of marshy billabongs and arid flats, called Madmans Bend, because of the lack of reason in when and where the water flows.

The story starts with the suspicion that a young woman, Jill Madden, has murdered her brutal stepfather, William Lush, a man detested throughout the community.

The man is away in town, getting drunk. On his return, his car runs out of petrol at the area where the mail boxes for the farms in that area are, and he walks the rest of the way home.

The daughter is home with her mother who has been severely beaten for most of their married life by Lush, her second husband.

The mother subsequently dies from the most recent beating, so the search is on for either Lush the murderer, or Lush, the victim himself.

The man has disappeared after arriving home drunk, the daughter not allowing him to enter the house, and firing the Winchester through the door.

The man cannot be found, and they cannot locate the body if he has been killed, the finger of suspicion falling firmly on the girl when she disposes of the door that she has fired the shot through, burning it in a fire in their yard of her house.

Bony arrives the next morning on his way to Bourke with a Constable Lucas, on a matter unrelated to this story. He is intrigued by the case, and stays on to investigate this disappearance.

The town of White Bend is the closest town to this group of farms, and it is mentioned that the town stopped growing back in 1920.

There is also mention of the great flood of 1925, this mention arising from the fact that a great flood is now flowing down the Darling, rapidly approaching them, forcing Bony to work quickly as the flood will wash downstream any clues he may find, and also cover the swamp called Madmans bend, again eradicating any clues that area may contain.

Lush was an itinerant worker moving up and down the Darling. He came across Mrs Madden after her first husband died, when Lush arrived in the district from Cunnamulla ‘way back in ‘55′.

She owned the property and Lush stayed on, perceiving this as his chance to become one of the landed gentry, later proving himself to be the violent drunk and wife beater that he was, a matter covered up by the wife and the daughter.

As Lush was last positively seen alive when his car ran out of petrol near the mail boxes, there is mention of Mail delivery in the district after Cobb and Company, the former mail delivery service.

There is also conjecture that in his drunken state, he fell into a deep hole in the river near these mail boxes.

His body eventually surfaces here at this hole, and he has been shot, the crabs eating away some evidence of the bullet wound in the head.

The finger of suspicion is firmly pointed at Jill for most of the story, and it does not look good for her at all.

She had access to a Shotgun, a Winchester point 32 and a Winchester point 44.

The bullet evidently rattled around inside his skull, and upon location was sent away for forensic analysis, somewhat inconclusive, and not letting Jill off the hook. Again, the forensic analysis is up to date with matters of that time, and included as to highlight the differentiation between the modern way and the way of the aborigine.

Bony is again mistaken for an Inspector of Rabbits, and there is also mention of Stetson felt hats, as distinct from the Australian made Akubra felt hats.

The flood is in full swing and all hands are set to building a levee around the station nearest where Jill lives.

She has been evacuated from her home, which goes under during the flood, and Bony helps a group of swagmen to construct this levee.

Jill, coincidentally, is in love with the son of the lady owner of this neighbouring station, her husband also passing away, the son returning this love, but a little unwilling to let on, for fear of his mothers attitude towards the match.

The mother does not really approve of the young girl because of her lowly background and her association with Lush.

The mother was an English woman who married the now deceased husband during the War, (WW2) the husband being a pilot.

There is also mention of the local doctor, who also flies his own privately owned aircraft and also likes a drink, one Doctor Leveska, who helps Bony with some of the forensic details following the surfacing of the body. This is also a situation that Upfield has used before in other novels.

The large group of swaggies constructing the levee are a source of clues for Bony, as he discovers that Madmans Bend holds the vital clues he needs, the swaggies using this swamp as their ‘home on the land’ while they are on the move.

Bony finds the vital clue in the swamp, and after enquiring into the background of all of the swaggies, he locates the real murderer, allowing Jill off the hook.

Bony also uses his charm to soften the lady into allowing her son to finally match up with Jill.

As the flood approaches, there is heavy rain, this exacerbating the danger that the waters will flow over the top of the levee.

This leads to a discussion on the weather, and not just a general mentioning, but a full blown detailed weather forecast, mentioning Isobars, Low Pressure areas, the Fronts behind this Low and buried in it, the resulting wind formed from the conjunction of the Low and the High, the direction of this wind as a result, and the possible time of arrival of this low at their latitude and longitude, the front being well away to the West.

After the conclusion of the investigation, there is an intriguing little part where Bony sits down to write to his beloved Marie. In this passage, Upfield finally mentions that he and his wife are getting on in life. In the letter, Bony mentions the case he has been working on, and that there is a love interest between Jill and the son. He mentions that the son is a couple of years younger that our ‘little Ed’, their youngest. If this is the case and the young man from the case is in his mid to late twenties, then that would place Ed’s age as being in his mid thirties, having him born in either the late twenties or the early thirties, which would tend to tie in with the real time, a mention that Upfield has not indicated until now.

Bony also mentions in his letter that they have now been married for more than forty years, again tying in correctly with real time from his earlier stories, and this would place Bony’s age at being well into his sixties, the first mention of Bony’s possible age, and their approaching old age.

This would also tend to tie in with Upfield’s own old age, as he was seventy five when he wrote this novel, and his death was only one year away, at the age of seventy five.

This is another of Upfield’s ripping yarns.