Monday, September 29, 2008

The Mystery of Swordfish Reef

I just finished yet another of Arthur Upfield’s pre-WWII Australian detective novels. (The copyright is actually 1943, but I suspect he wrote it before the war.) My Upfield reading began with the Agatha Christie-esque The Lost Shoe. I bought several other used Upfields expecting the same tone.

Lo and behold, The Lost Shoe is the only Christie-esque novel I have read so far. The Mystery of Swordfish Reef has detective Napoleon Bonaparte (“Bony”) investigating a murder in fishing waters. He poses as a swordfish angler to track down the disappearance of a fishing vessel and its three passengers.

The most irritating thing about the novel (at least for me) is the EXTENSIVE detail about Bony’s fishing expeditions. Upfield obviously had a love of fishing, or he thought his readers would have a great love of it.

Bony solves the murder, with a climatic kidnapping and confrontation. Upfield’s treatment of the aboriginal culture in the climax is the most interesting note. Upfield’s brilliant detective is a “half caste,” born of an aboriginal mother and a white father. This would incline me to believe that Upfield wanted to go against stereotypes of aboriginals. However, the last few scenes reveal Bony, totally embarrassed that his “mother’s side” overcame his father’s side as he physically attacked the murderer. Bony’s thoughts on this matter are incredibly racist. I guess I just need to remember that Upfield wrote his novels over fifty years ago and may have been somewhat advanced in his thinking for the times.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

I still have a very hard time as a modern reader being okay with blatant sexism and racism--even it it was culturally appropriate at the time a book was written. So, would you only recommend the one Christie-esque mystery?