Bibliophile reviews Man of Two Tribes
Author: Arthur Upfield
Series detective: Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte
No. in series: 20
Year of publication: 1956
Type of mystery: Murder, missing person
Type of investigator: Police
Setting & time: Nullarbor Plain, Australia, 1950’s
Number of deaths: 1
Some themes: Kidnapping, fame-seeking, sexual power and it’s misuse, justice
Story: Bony is sent to try to find a murderess who was recently acquitted of the murder of her husband because she managed to win over the jury. She was last seen on a train going through the Nullarbor Plain, an arid, desolate area on the edge of the Australian desert, and then she disappeared mysteriously in the middle of nowhere. There is evidence that she may be involved in espionage and therefore Bony disguises himself and sets out into the Plain, ostensibly to check on some dingo traps, but really to look around for signs of the missing woman and to try to locate a mysterious helicopter known to have been in the area that night. What he discovers is something he didn’t expect at all. When he finds himself captive among a colony of convicted murderers he has to use all of his wits and survival skills to stay alive and get out of there.
Review: This has to be one of the strangest mysteries I have read. As well as being a nested-doll story, it is a hybrid between a country house-type mystery (the set-up in the middle part of the book is classic country house: a small stage with a small number of suspects, all of whom have motives for the murder), a survival thriller and a prison-break story. The storytelling goes some way towards compensating for the strange genre-crossing, but even all of Upfield’s subtle, black humour and the evocative descriptions of Australian nature and animals and the menace they present to the inexperienced only take it so far. Still, for some reason, I mostly liked it. Upfield gets a point for playing fair with the reader, unlike the previous two books I reviewed by him. The clues to the murder are all laid out for the reader to puzzle together.
Rating: Not the best I have read by Upfield, but has its good points. 3 stars.