Friday, October 24, 2014

Madman's Bend: Review

Arthur W. Upfield's Madman's Bend (aka The Body at Madman's Bend) 1963 presents us with two murder victims--one who provokes our sympathy and one who seemed born to be murdered. William Lush--has there every been a more appropriately named character in a detective novel? Lush is a hard-drinking, hard-fisted squatter who married a widow with a bit of land and what he thought was a good bit of money (and his ticket to a fortune). When he discovered (after the wedding) that most of the money was tied up in a trust for his step-daughter, Jill, he took his frustration out on his wife and in drink. 

As the book opens, he has beaten Jill's mother one too many times and Jill is waiting with a rifle for him to come back home from another bout of drinking. The doors and windows are locked and barred and when he discovers he can't get into the house, he takes an axe to the offending front door. Jill fires a warning shot into the ceiling and then fires at the door when Lush spews abuse and the axe hits the door again. The night goes quiet and Jill sits up all night--fully expecting to find Lush injured or dead outside the door come morning.

But there is no sign of him the next day. And when Jill's mother dies from her injuries, the police become involved. They don't know, however, if they are looking for a drunken murderer sleeping off a binge or the body of a murdered man. Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte ("Bony" to his friends) is in the area and becomes interested in the case. There are lots of men who had run-ins with Lush, there were several who had the opportunity and/or the means...but Jill Madden had them all and a major motive as well. But without a body and the flood-waters of the Darling River headed towards Madman's Bend, Bony will be hard-pressed to prove murder and find sufficient evidence. Patience and time usually work to the detective's advantage. Unfortunately, time is the one commodity that he doesn't have....

This is a interesting twist on the "locked room" mystery--only instead of the impossible crime of "how was it done?" we've got an ever-decreasing amount of space for Bony to examine and the question becomes "will he find all the clues before they're swept away?" He's got to find the evidence in time to pick the murderer out of fourteen possible suspects. Most of what he finds eliminates the innocent without pointing a steady finger at the killer. He has to take a dangerous boat ride over the flood waters before he gets on the right track. The clues aren't thick on the ground, but there is fair play and a decent, interesting mystery to try and unravel.  ★★

This fulfills the "More Than One Title" square on the Silver Vintage Bingo card.


fredamans said...

Opening up with beating a woman may be an issue for me right away. Great review!

Katherine P said...

This one sounds interesting! I love twists on locked room ideas. Thanks for sharing!