Friday, February 3, 2023

Wings Above the Diamantina

 Wings Above the Diamantina (1936) by Arthur W. Upfield

Elizabeth Nettlefold and her father John make a startling discovery while out on a tour of inspection of the land her father manages as a cattle breeder. Resting on the dry lake bed of Emu lake is a shiny red monoplane. There are no footprints leading away from the plane and at first it appears that the plane must have landed itself. On closer inspection, they find a young woman strapped into the front cockpit (away from the controls). She is unconscious and they have no success in bringing her to. Their first thought is to get her back to the house and call a doctor. Then Mr. Nettlefold plans to return with the local police sergeant to investigate further.

When the doctor arrives the woman opens her eyes but she cannot move and cannot speak. He's not sure whether she has had some awful shock or if she has been poisoned, but he does the best he can for her immediately and will call in a specialist to help with the diagnosis. Elizabeth Nettlefold volunteers to act as nurse. Recently she has been bored with life on the cattle station and she feels like caring for the unknown woman has given her a new purpose in life. 

Her father and Sergeant Cox set out for the plane early the next only to discover that the aircraft has been demolished by fire. Cox is dismayed to learn that the Nettlefolds didn't think to check the plane for the young woman's belongings--now they may never know who she is. The sergeant knows his limits and immediately calls for assistance from Brisbane. And they send their best man for unusual crimes in the back country--Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. But with so few clues, Bony will have his work cut out for him if he's to discover the woman's identity and that of her attempted murderer before the villain can finish the job.

Upfield, as per usual, gives the reader a fine sense of place (and my edition even includes a nice map so we can orient ourselves as necessary. He regularly has characters discussing distances which lets us know just how far away the important locales are from one another and he also gives great descriptions of the Australian landscape. Bony manages to keep his unbroken record of solved mysteries--though it is a close thing for a while. I will say that I was a bit surprised that the solution to the young woman's paralysis didn't occur to him sooner. I was pretty certain I knew (in general--not specifically) what the cause was and was proved right. There are subtle clues that will allow the observant reader to get there as well. 

Even with that point, this stands up as a pretty good mystery. I did think it just a bit long in the middle--Bony takes an awful long time in reaching the "aha" moment. And there was no way we were going to know the woman's identity before Bony tells us in the grand finale. But it is entertaining to watch Bony at work even when we might think he's being a little slow on the uptake. 

First line: Because the day was still and cool and invigorating, Elizabeth elected to accompany her father on a tour of the fifteen square miles of country called Coolibah.

"Believe me, I know what boredom is," he said, quietly cutting in. "There is only one thing worse than boredom, and that is memory. Boredom can be banished, but memory cannot be obliterated." (Dr. Knowles; p. 46)

Last line: "My worst policeman," he said. "My best detective!"


Deaths = five natural; two car accident

All challenges fulfilled: Vintage Scavenger Hunt,Mount TBR,Reading by the Numbers,Medical Examiner,Alphabet Soup Authors,Cloak & Dagger,Stacking the Series,Monthly Key Word,BC by Erin,52 Book Club,Series Catch-Up,TBR 23 in '23,Linz the Bookworm RC,Pick Your Poison,Mystery Reporter,

1 comment:

Rick Mills said...

Thanks for the review! Another good mysterious-airplane-on-the-desert mystery is The Chiffon Scarf by Mignon G. Eberhart, in which a wedding party departs St. Louis for Lousiana on a chartered plane. It lands on the desert in remote southern Colorado (well, *that* was close); with everyone held incommunicado. Of course, mysterious murder follows! I did a review but cannot link to it here as Goodreads does not allow comments to link to external sites :-(