Tony’s Notes From The Bony Novels (Part 21)

Posted on Wed 04/27/2011 by



I really cannot remember the first time I read one of these Bony novels from Arthur Upfield. I seem to think it may have been late in 1969. I later purchased and read a second, but again, when you are young, reading was not really a major thing in one’s life. Throughout the mid 1970’s I got hold of more of them and read them avidly.

Luckily I kept hold of them.

In the late 80’s, I got hold of some more when some of the earlier Angus and Robertson published novels were released through a subsidiary, Arkon.

I now had 27 of them.

In the mid 90’s I saw those books in my bookshelf and wondered what it would be like to read them again.

I started to read them only to try and get them into some sort of sequence, and I found something in them that I had missed when I first read them, or glossed over.

Along the way, the crime element of the books seemed to fade into the background, as those other things pushed their way to the foreground, and I wondered why I had so comprehensively missed the important thing about the novels the first time round.

I started to take notes on some of the things I was noticing with more depth than I did when I first read them, and then compiled those notes into a word processing program on my first computer, back in the mid 1990’s.

I still had no real idea how many Upfield had written in the Bony series, and during a visit to a large reference library, I found out that there were 29, so I was only missing 2 of them. That visit also gave me the published order of those novels, so now I had a better reference as to the correct order, as some of them, I was reading out of order.

It took me a further two years before I finally did get hold of those last two novels.

Those original notes I then expanded upon, and also included reviews of all the novels as I read them.

I attempted to find out if there was any future for the novels and after a number of letters and telephone calls, I was put in touch with Tom Thompson who was holding some of the original Angus and Robertson titles.

Over the years I have kept in touch with Tom. Tom owns the Official Arthur Upfield Publishing Site. He asked to see what I had, and he then encouraged me to put those notes onto an Online format. I had no idea how to do something like that, and it has been a number of years since he first suggested it.

Now that I am a contributor at this Blog, this has proved to be the perfect place to do just that.

It has taken me eight months to do that. Those original notes were in a huge format, so I had to break them down into more workable lengths for posting here.

What I have is comprehensive, but again, is just the point of view from my reading of those novels.

As definitive as it may seem, this is not all there is on Arthur Upfield. There are other sites as well, and that’s a good thing, because what I have here adds to the information about Upfield, and more importantly, his Bony character.

For an in depth Biography of Arthur Upfield, Travis Lindsey has a wonderful article. It was his thesis for his doctorate, and is very detailed about aspects of Upfield’s life.

The link to that site is as follows, and be aware that this is a pdf document, so you will need a reader.

Biography of Arthur W Upfield by Travis Lindsey

As a murder crime writer, Upfield was successful. He had the knack of being able to leave it till the last few pages to solve the murder. He also had the knack of introducing red herrings to sidetrack the reader.

He had the innate ability of putting things into the background that would sit there in the back of your mind and nag away at you.

His books are immensely readable, even in this day and age, or maybe that should be especially in this day and age.

His novels raised more questions than they answered. His style was laid back and laconic before those descriptions were even invented.

In this day and age of the graphic crime, described in such intricate and never ending detail, that crime most usually proceeding on to serial crime, Upfield’s unique style probably stands head and shoulders above the most of them.

Woven into his novels is the fabric of Australian life.

Many authors have tried to write the ‘Great Australian Novel’. Upfield was not one of them. For years, he himself had impolite digs at the literary society in general. He even had his characters in his novels doing exactly that.

Numerous authors have tried to write ‘The Great Australian Novel’. Some have even come close.

Xavier Herbert’s ‘Poor Fellow My Country’, and Frank Hardy’s ‘Power Without Glory’ are two that spring to mind that might have come close.

I do not presume to say that Upfield has come close to writing something he never intended to do, by his own words.

However, in his novels, he has given us a slice of Australian life. This slice of life has been spread over nearly forty years.

Considering that another writer constructs a novel over maybe a couple of years, Upfield constructed his series of novels over nearly thirty five years, so he had a longer period to draw scenes of Australian life from.

This still does not make Upfield the writer of ‘The Great Australian Novel’ per se. It just means that he has given us a vast canvas of the Australian way of life spread over a long period of time. As well as doing this, he has given us a canvas of the aboriginal way of life that no other author has given us.

Upfield used these little insightful anecdotes with respect to aboriginal culture embedded in the story as little clues, and as was the case with the solving of the mystery, it was treated as just a mention in the text of his novels, and this is where Upfield was so clever with his writing, a point that has probably led to his being misunderstood across the decades, and why his writings have drawn so many bad responses.

As with the solving of the mystery, Upfield seemed to leave clues that were more for Bony’s edification than the readers, and Upfield himself was so subtle with these clues. It was almost as if the main clue was only for Bony, and so quickly does the reader skip over it that he does not realise that he has come across an important clue.

Consequently, the same can be said for the little insights into what is happening at these meetings with the tribal aborigines.

Upfield used the same subtlety with this as he did with his clues, and hence the important things seem to have been glossed over.

In this day and age, we virtually have to see the clues with arrows pointing towards them, almost the reverse of the way that Upfield wrote about it. These days the clues seem to be more for the reader than the person involved in the investigation itself, so the reader can solve the crime ahead of the investigator, wondering how that the investigator could not see what was directly in front of his eyes.

The way that Upfield wrote his stories was part of the intrigue that kept you reading. When he solved the case in the last few pages, the reader says to himself, ‘I remember that.’ The clue that seemed such an insignificant thing earlier on in the book was one of the important things that helped to solve the investigation.

The same can be said for the laconic way Upfield treated the things that happened in these little tribal meetings. He made them seem significant at the time, but when looked at in depth by the reader, he did not treat them with the significance that they would be treated today, again, another point of placing today’s values on something that happened in the past.

While now virtually all of them are out of print, his novels are still current to this time.

You can read the books in any order, and still enjoy each book as a single entity. If you want blood and guts, you will be sorely disappointed.

If you want pure detection, then you will not be disappointed.

Upfield hit on something different, stuck at it, and succeeded in bringing us something that even he might not have expected.

The years have shown us that some of the stereotypes may have been reinforced, when we place today’s values on things that were normal occurrence at the time of writing, but on the whole, he has treated the aboriginal way of life with more respect than a lot of other writers who have been more favourably received.

If you can find any of those Upfield Bony novels, I urge you to read them. While the genre may be Crime Fiction, they are much more than that.