11 February 2009

Forgotten Books: VENOM HOUSE, Arthur Upfield

Another contribution to Pattinase's Friday's Forgotten Books theme.

Arthur Upfield (1890-1964)
was an Australian crime fiction author who wrote 34 novels 1926-1966, with "Bony" making his first appearance in 1929, and then subsequently in 28 other novels. Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte was the son of an unknown white man and an aboriginal mother, a gentleman and genius of criminal science, with an M.A. degree from Brisbane University. In his work Bony frequently faces race prejudices but wins them with his wit and smile.

The first title in my records (31 years ago) is VENOM HOUSE written in 1952, but I am sure I had read many before that.

Napoleon Bonaparte, the brilliant half-caste Detective-Inspector, is sent out to small "one-pub" coastal town south of Brisbane to look into the death of Mrs. Answerth of Venom House, found floating in the moat surrounding her home. Two previous murders can also be traced to the house. Bony finds enough psychological dynamite under Venom's roof to account for dozens of murders; a housekeeper, formerly a nurse for mental cases; a violent, mannish sister; a sly, feminine sister; and, locked away upstairs, a mentally retarded brother.

VENOM HOUSE was published in 1952 by Doubleday as part of its Crime Club series. The first British edition was published by Heinemann in 1953. Pictured above is the Medallion edition of 1952, printed by Berkley in the United States.

One of the pleasures in the research on forgotten books is the discovery of delightful sites. While the Wikipedia page will give you lots of info., it can't beat the Unofficial Arthur Upfield site, which not only lists the books but has some lovely scanned covers like the one that I have used here.

From the Wikipedia entry:
In 1987, H.R.F. Keating included The Sands of Windee (1931) in his list of the 100 best crime and mystery books ever published. J.B. Priestley wrote of Upfield: "If you like detective stories that are something more than puzzles, that have solid characters and backgrounds, that avoid familiar patterns of crime and detection, then Mr Upfield is your man."

At one stage Upfield was definitive Australian crime fiction, set in the outback, you can almost smell the hot brown land. Today we might feel that an Upfield novel could possibly carry with it politically incorrect overtones, but in their day his novels put Australia on the crime fiction map, and many titles were widely available overseas, with publishers in both the UK and the USA. His values reflected those of Australian society in the 1940s and 1950s, although the status he gave Bony was an exception to how aborigines were generally treated, in a country which did not give them the vote in Federal elections until 1962.

Arthur Upfield books turn up often on the dusty shelves of our used book shops here in Australia, but such was his popularity that you can still get copies, admittedly used, of VENOM HOUSE at Amazon, and they have many many Upfields on offer.


Mack said...

I wish Upfield's books would get reissued, perhaps in omnibus format. I have quite a few titles but am missing the first which keeps me from getting started on the series. I'm compulsive about reading a series in order. While I'm wishing, I wouldn't mind a reissue of The Murchison Murders. This is enough wishes for today, I think.

Cathy said...

Like Mack, I'm compulsive about starting a series at the beginning, and I have yet to find the first in this series. I'll keep trying, though!

Sandra said...

My son and I read the Upfield books together twenty years ago. The library no longer has them and they are hard to find but I love the stories. Thanks so much for writing about these.

Kerrie said...

Blogger won't let me get rid of the spam comments from "Sexy" so I am reduced to creating some of my own

Tom Thompson said...

Every Upfield Bony crime novel is now available on iTunes or Amazon in digital form worldwide; so we can all start at the beginning. Tom Thompson, Publisher www.arthurupfield.com


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