Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Mountains Have a Secret: Review

The Mountains Have a Secret is my third go-round with Arthur W. Upfield and his Detective Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte mystery series.  I absolutely loved the first one I came across, An Author Bites the Dust, and The Bone Is Pointed was a solid entry as well.  Mountains falls somewhere in between.

The upshot of the story is this:  Two pretty girls set out on a hiking tour near the Grampian Mountains.  They spend a couple of nights at a pub called the Baden Park Hotel and when they leave the pub on the road to Hall's Gap they are never seen again.  A couple of weeks after the search is called off, a police officer who had experience with the mountains follows their route and is found shot to death in his car 25 miles from where the girls were last seen.  Most of the officers in the area believe the death and the disappearance are unrelated....but Superintendent Bolt isn't so sure.  

Enter Bony....the Detective Inspector has a reputation for a perfect record in his investigations and the Superintendent wants him to take on the case and find out what happened to the girls and whether his office died because of the investigation or for other reasons.  Bony assumes the persona of a sheep rancher on holiday and takes a room at the Baden Park Hotel.  He befriends the father of the owner--who seems frightened of his son and who is generally kept from fraternizing with the guests.  It isn't long before Bony's questions draw the attention of the pub's owner and an American ex-serviceman who works at the pub.  

Bony will be assaulted by a couple of thugs and a professional wrestler and will take to the hills to conduct surveillance on the pub and a nearby sheep ranch that is protected by military-like sentinels and a high-security fence.  James Simpson, the pub's proprietor, spends an awful lot of time behind that high-security fence--ostensibly entertaining his friends, the Bensons, with his musical skills on the piano and organ.  But Bony suspects that more is going on behind the fence than a friendly concert.  He finds an ally in the American and the two of them take on a highly-organized group with German ties....but in the end Bony's perfect record remains intact and he tracks down the girls and solves not one, but two murders.

I really enjoyed Bony's interactions with both Simpson's father, Joseph, and Glen Shannon, the ex-serviceman from Texas.  The characterizations were strong and interesting where Upfield could have made them caricatures--the old drunk and the good ol' boy from the southern US.  Like The Bone Is Pointed, Bony goes undercover in the back country...spending days on his own and out of touch with police back up.  But I found this situation much more realistic, probably because it didn't involve any native "magic" working on our hero.  The descriptions of the mountains and the countryside are once again a major plus in Upfield's writing and the mystery is quite entertaining.  3.75 stars (rounded to 4 on Goodreads).

Spoiler Alert!******** Do not read if you don't want a major clue to the ending. 

This novel was first published in 1948--three years after the end of World War II.  I'm curious to know if this was the first instance of an author speculating that Hitler's remains (although not specifically named--heavily insinuated) were removed from Germany.  In this scenario, the remains have been carefully preserved in some sort of special coffin and have apparently been kept in "Trust" by devoted followers.  For what purpose, we're not quite sure. 

I was totally buying into the idea that the two girls stumbled onto some secret and either had to be silenced or kidnapped to prevent them spilling the beans.  But that doesn't wind up being the case and I don't think Upfield properly explains why the girls were snatched and forced into service on the ranch.  As Bony points out, the Bensons could have advertized for live-in help--if they had properly vetted those who showed up for the job (to be sure there wasn't family/friends who would have expected them to visit or check in) then nobody would have been snooping around in the area.  That little quibble deducts from the star rating.

Challenges: 150 Plus Reading Challenge, Vintage Mystery Challenge, Monthly Key Word, Mount TBR Challenge, Book Bingo, Outdo Yourself, 52 Books in 52 Weeks, Mystery and Crime Challenge, A-Z Mystery Author, Off the Shelf, Embarrassment of Riches


Debbie Rodgers said...

Yet another vintage author I've not read! How will I ever do them all?

Thanks for tipping him to me.

Ryan said...

I really, really need to get to these books at some point in time.

Anonymous said...

It's been a while since I read this one, Bev - I remember it primarily because of the unusual ending. I must admit I prefer a lot of the other Bony books over this one (including "The Bone is Pointed") - but anything that helps revive interest in Upfield is OK with me!