Tag Archives: Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte

‘Journey to the Hangman’

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Do you enjoy a cracking good detective yarn, full of realistic, vivid characters in an exotic setting–I mean, real exotic?

The late Arthur Upfield’s chronicles of Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte are among the best mystery novels ever written; and the one I’ve just finished reading, Journey to the Hangman, is one of my favorites.

In a very small and close-knit town in the Australian Outback, a town not very far removed at all from its frontier past–we’re in the 1950s here, but the town of Daybreak doesn’t seem to have a single television set–Bony has to solve three murders, with every indication that another murder will be done if he doesn’t catch the killer fast.

Visiting Daybreak is like stepping a hundred years into the past. Indeed, Upfield so excelled at settings that we sometimes forget he was just as masterful at describing characters and bringing them to life.

And of course the centerpiece of all these novels is Bony himself, half-white, half-aborigine–a hunter who has never failed to catch his prey, because he knows that just a single failure would destroy him. When Upfield started writing these books in the 1940s, many white Australians viewed the aborigines as primitive savages: but Upfield delved into the riches of their ancient culture, and wrote of them with respect and admiration. In our own era of supercharged racial politics, Upfield can be read as a voice of sanity. I appreciate that.

Anyway, it’s a real poser of a mystery, and yet we almost don’t care because the place and the people are so fascinating. Upfield knew how to put you there–and only great writers are able to do that… again and again.


A Serial Poisoner Stalks Broken Hill

Ready for some good old stuff?

In The Bachelors of Broken Hill (1950),  by Arthur Upfield, a prosperous mining city in the interior of Australia is the hunting ground for some unknown person who uses cyanide–a deadly poison, but easily obtained in those days–to murder elderly bachelors: in broad daylight, and in public places. When the local police, inexperienced in such bizarre crimes, can’t crack the case, Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (“Bony” to his friends) has to take over.

Bony, half-white, half-aboriginal, has never failed to finalize a case. He is one of the most fascinating fictional detectives ever created, on a par with Sherlock Holmes. I know, that’s easy to say, but I really mean it. Upfield wrote several dozen Bony books, from the late 1930s into the early 1960s, and all I can say is, I wish he’d written more!

Usually Bony works in the Australian Outback, a world which Arthur Upfield knew intimately, and which he excels in bringing to life for the reader. It’s as if Australia itself were a major character in these stories.

But this time Bony has to do his detecting in a city, where his special gifts seem to be inapplicable.

To complicate matters, there’s another killer on the loose–a criminally insane magician.

Now, I haven’t yet read the last two chapters, so I can’t spoil it for you by telling you how Bony solves the case. But it has been a wild ride. The mystery in hand is truly devilish: Upfield was a master of creating suspense, and in this book (as in a few others), a real sense of creepiness.

If you like mysteries, treat yourself to some of these novels. Many of them are available on amazon.com, kindle or paperback, even a few used hardbacks. Arthur Upfield was a great writer, whom Australia ought to have declared a national treasure. Thankfully, online book outlets have made him easily available to American readers. For a time there it looked like he was just going to be allowed to go out of print; but I think amazon and Alibris and the others may have saved him.

We cannot afford to lose books like this!


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