Thursday, February 22, 2024

Man of Two Tribes

 Man of Two Tribes (1956) by Arthur W. Upfield

I seem to be in the minority on this one, but I just think this is bonkers. The story starts out pretty straightforward: Myra Thomas, accused and acquitted of killing her husband, disappeared from the train carrying her and her mother to live in another part of Australia where perhaps the notoriety would not follow her. But Myra never arrived in Perth--somewhere between Adelaide and the final stop she vanished. As far as anyone could tell, she was wearing only her nightdress and a pair of slippers. And not a trace of her has been found after three weeks of searching by train employees along the line and police officials in the small towns in the great desert plain area. There are few places a woman could be and still be alive--and she is not in any of them.

So, Bony arrives, ostensibly to take up the hunt, but also because an old trapper, who has recently died, left a diary indicating that there have been clandestine journeys by a helicopter during the desert nights. Upper officials are worried that spies are at work, so Bony is sent to look for Myra Thomas and to find out the truth behind the trapper's helicopter sightings. And then it just gets weird. When Bony arrives at the trapper's last camp, he discovers a silky white scarf fluttering above a deep sinkhole. The next thing he knows, a group of tribesmen have unceremoniously dumped him and all his gear (save a really good hunting rifle) down into the underground cavern where he finds himself stranded with Myra Thomas and several convicted (and recently released) killers. And there's a fresh corpse among them. So, now Bony has to figure out which murderer in a group of murderers has decided to kill again. Oh...and he also has to figure out how to get them all out of there (and is, of course, successful after the group has been working on this very thing for weeks...).

The best thing about this one is the descriptions of the desert area of Australia and Bony's interactions with the camels and Lucy, the dog, when he's following the traplines of the old trapper. I've always appreciated Upfield's way of describing the Australian landscape and Bony is such an interesting character that even his interactions with animals are amusing and well worth reading. The mystery could have been way better if it hadn't had such a bonkers set up. I just don't see how the snatching of all these murderers and suspected murderers could work so smoothly without any clues being left. If Bony hadn't seen that silk scarf (which, how the heck?), then they'd never have been found and he's one of the best trackers ever. ★★ and 1/2.

First line: Senior Constable Easter was roused by the alarm clock at three-forty-five a.m.

Last lines: "Fellow of the Released Murderers' Institute. I really earned that, Easter."
Deaths = 5 (one natural; one shot; one poisoned; one hit on head; one fell from height)

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