Monday, May 27, 2024

The New Shoe

 The New Shoe (1951) by Arthur W. Upfield

When the lighthouse inspector makes an unexpected second trip to now automated Split Point Lighthouse on Australia's southeast coast, he discovers the naked body of a man hidden in a little-used storage closet in the wall. There is nothing to identify the body and advertisements of his description yields no help. So, Inspector Napoleon "Bony" Bonaparte is dispatched to help the local police. Bony has yet to leave a case unsolved and he's confident he'll crack this one. But even with his disguise as a holiday-making sheep farmer, the local inhabitants are reluctant to tell more than they've already shared with the police. But Bony knows that they know something. The only one who will really talk with him is old Ed Penwarden, an expert wood craftsman who specializes in coffins.

Bony wonders why a certain coffin is moved in the night, why the girl was seen struggling with Dick Lake on the cliff top, why Elred Wessex never came home from the war, and what the Bully Buccaneers have to do with it all. It isn't until his new friend, the dog Stug, brings him a shiny new shoe at the cliff's edge that he finds the clues that will lead him onto the correct path and when someone tries to brain him with a rock he knows he's getting close. And if he's not careful, he'll find himself resting permanently in one of Penwarden's beautiful coffins...

Although Upfield employs some of the standard Bony tropes (going undercover, ignoring his chief's urgings to hurry up, etc), this is a slightly different take than most of the detective's cases. Here he finds himself in a more centralized rural area--with far more people around, rather than using his tracking skills in the outback. I really enjoyed his interactions with Penwarden and the empathy he showed to various characters he met during the course of his investigation. And, as always, it's fun to see him melt into another persona as seamlessly as Holmes donning a disguise. ★★★

First line: The evening sky was a true prophet.

"People don't hink about next week, tomorrow....No pride these days...get through work as quickly as possible for as much as possible...and refuse to do any thinkin' because thinkin' hurts." (Mr. Penwarden;p. 30)

"Putting the dead man in that locker don't make no sense to me, and I allus say that what don't make sense ain't worth worryin about. (Penwarden p. 64)

Last line: He walked on, and Mr. Penwarden tarried at the gate to watch him until he reached the main road.

Deaths =  3 (one shot; one natural; one fell from height)

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