Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Bachelors of Broken Hill: Review

The Bachelors of Broken Hill (1950) is the 14th mystery in Arthur W. Upfield's series which features Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte. It also finds Bony slightly out of his element--in the city rather than in the bush area and the sheep stations where he generally operates. 

When the police force at Broken Hill are faced with two cyanide poisoning deaths which both they and an obnoxious, self-important inspector from Sydney are unable to solve, Bony asks to be "seconded" to the New South Wales Police Department to bring his expert skills to bear. A third poisoning occurs shortly after he begins his investigation and he begins to see a pattern. All three victims are older, single men. All three die in crowded, public places while drinking tea or beer. All three are very messy when at table. And witnesses recall a woman being near the victims shortly before they died--though there is some disagreement about her description. The one item they all agree on--she was carrying a very old-fashioned blue purse with red, drawstring straps.

Even though one death occurs after Bony arrives, most of the clues are old, the crime scenes have been tidied, and the witnesses have to be mollified after being mishandled by the policeman from Sydney. But Bony is used to following the most meager of trails and employing unorthodox measures to find his man...or woman as the case may be. He'll make use of a burglar on holiday, an amateur sketch artist, and a barkeeper-turned-taxi-man as well as convincing the local constabulary to turn a blind eye to a bit of benevolent burgling in the quest for justice. The first thing he'll have to determine--does she kill out of an unreasonable hatred for messy bachelors or is there method to her madness? Perhaps she's playing the trick of hiding one important death amongst the others. Once Bony discovers the answer to that conundrum and makes the connection to a murder by glass knife he's well on his way to capturing his killer.

It is always a delight to watch the unorthodox, half-Aboriginal, half-white detective operate. It is particularly fun to watch him one-up the obnoxious Inspector Stillman from Sydney. Bony's character is self-assured ("I always finish a race, always finalise the case I consent to take up.") as well as intelligent, and utterly charming. It doesn't take him long to have the shop girls, who so recently became anti-police under the questioning of Stillman, eating out of his hand and going out of there way to help him identify the mysterious woman who hovers near every murder. 

In addition to the usual police procedural, this particular outing provides an interesting character study. Bony must first understand the character of the victims before he can begin to understand the character and psychology of the woman who kills them. The ending is a bit darker than the usual fare by Upfield--giving the reader a very intimate look at what could drive someone to kill in the manner portrayed in the book. A thoroughly good read. ★★★★

This fulfills the "Dead Body" category on the Golden Vintage Scavenger Hunt card.

All challenges fulfilled: Vintage Mystery Challenge, Mount TBR Challenge, 100 Plus Challenge, Outdo Yourself, Travel the World, Cloak & Dagger, Charity Challenge, Triple Dog Dare, A-Z Mystery Author Challenge, Mystery Reporter, My Kind of Mystery, Title Fight, Mad Reviewer,


Jacquie said...

I am so happy to see you liked this book. It's the only title I own by Upfield and now I'm eager to read it. I've been purging books I figured I'd never read and this one was on the fringe. :) Now it's going back on the TBR shelf! Thanks, Bev!

Gram said...

I love this series, but it is hard to find!

fredamans said...

I have a tough time reading police procedurals, but this one sounds pretty solid.

Bev Hankins said...

Jacqueline: I hope you wind up liking it!

Jee Jay said...


Upfield's books are not so hard to find as they used to be. In the last year or so a whole slew have been put out as e-books.

If you are interested in that format, they can be had from the usual e-stores at less than $10 each.