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The Barrakee Mystery (Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte #1)

3.78  ·  Rating Details ·  223 Ratings  ·  34 Reviews
Why was the redoubtable King Henry, an aborigine from Western Australia, killed during a thunderstorm in New South Wales? — What was the feud that led to murder after nineteen long years had passed? — Who was the woman who saw the murder and kept silent? — This first story of Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, the half-aborigine detective, takes him to a sheep station in the ...more
Hardcover, 328 pages
Published 1972 by Heinemann Educational Books (first published 1929)
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Jan 25, 2015 Janelle rated it liked it
Recommends it for: Readers of Upfield's Bony books
This is the second time I have read The Barrakee Mystery. I gave it four stars after the first read (a few years before I joined Goodreads) but I have dropped it down to three after this one. While the story is gripping and the characters solid and entertaining, the racism is outrageous. I do acknowledge the book reflects the period of time in which it was written. And Upfield does make it frustratingly difficult for the modern reader to pigeonhole where he stands on issues of race. On the one ...more
Mar 13, 2011 Graham rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nook
This is the first of the "Bony" books featuring the half-aboriginal Australian detective, Napoleon Bonaparte.

I remember as a child enjoying the TV series based on the Bony books, and was keen to read the novels it was based on.

The plot is great, there are great action sequences, and the descriptions of the Australian scenery are fantastic. It seems authentic - you may need to use the glossary at the back for definitions of many of the Australian slang terms used throughout. I felt very sympathe
Nancy Oakes
This book is really very difficult to rate with a number, because it was written in another time, another place and I think in today's world, people would frown on the out and out blatant racism that runs through the pages of this book. However, that being said, if you put this book in its proper perspective, and realize that it was first written in 1929, then the racism becomes part of the world at the time. Once you can get past that, there's some strange ideas at work in Arthur Upfield's ...more
Mary Ronan Drew
Jan 23, 2015 Mary Ronan Drew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Australia in 1928 was a wild and dangerous place with islands of comfort (and hard work) called stations. This is the first in a series of mysteries about that world, The Lure of the Bush, also called The Barrakee Mystery, Barakee being a fictional station near the Darling River in NW New South Wales.

Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, "Bony," is part Aborigine or in the language of the day, a half-caste. He is the finest tracker in the commonwealth and when a black man is killed at Barrakee
Aug 21, 2016 Donna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was one wild ride of a book. The first in the Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (Bony) mystery series, it is much more than a mystery. It is one part Western, one part romance, one part adventure, and there's some detecting thrown in to explain it all.

There is one disturbing element for which I must mark it down -- the attitude of the English (Australians) to the native aborigines. There is outright discrimination as well as stunned disbelief that the detective is going to search for the killer
This was a very interesting read about a half-Aboriginal, half-Caucasian detective solving a murder out on a property in western New South Wales. Given the time in which this was written, I found the general attitude toward the Aboriginal people surprisingly sensitive, although there were some disappointing aspects and ways of describing things as well. But overall I enjoyed it, and will continue with this series. 3.5✭
Dec 03, 2016 Petra rated it liked it
I think the important thing to remember when starting this book is that it was written in 1929 when outlooks and attitudes were different. There is racism throughout. It isn't mean racism; it's seen as a way of life by both sides....but it is there and obvious to us today.
Despite that, Bony, the detective, has an aboriginal mother and a white father. He sits between the whites and the aboriginals. He's treated with respect and as an equal on both "sides". It may be that the author is a progress
Sue Law
Nov 10, 2016 Sue Law rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-crime
Writing for an Anglo-Australian audience at a time when racism was deeply embedded in society, Upfield had to tread carefully in a tale of a crime perpetrated against aborigines in the outback.
A local aboriginal man, just returned after a twenty year absence, is found dead on the banks of the Darling near Barrakee Station. The local police are unenthusiastic about the case, but Sydney borrows a half-aboriginal inspector from Queensland to solve the mystery. Working undercover, "Bony" rapidly ide
Nov 28, 2016 Steve rated it really liked it
Interesting read on the Australian Outback in the early part of the last century. Bony is a unique character. I will read this entire series
Patricia Ann Carter
The beginning of something great

I love a good mystery and have read the best...and the worst. Upfield ranks with the best, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Poe, Queen, Sayers, Marsh, and I could go on, but you get the idea. So what do you get with a Bony mystery? Careful plotting, realistic characterization, well-written English, Australian geography lessons, social commentary relevant to the 1930s to the 60s. Upfield balances the brain and the heart. He delivers the facts of each case throug
My copy has a boomerang and a bootprint on the front and since it has the marks referred to in the story it explains visually what they're talking about, although it is difficult to match that shape with the description of the scar on the tree. However, that's petty.
The story was written at the end of the twenties and it is important to remember that because the popular stories of the day, especially North American mysteries, had guns, fights, tracking and mysterious interpersonal relationships.
Apr 22, 2016 Kerrie rated it really liked it
It would be easy to focus in a review of THE BARRAKEE MYSTERY on the politically incorrect (by today's standards anyway) attitudes and terminology. But as the publisher says, they reflected the attitudes of the times.

Peter Hosking does a wonderful job of the narration and that allowed me to reflect on other things: the descriptions of the outback and the toughness required of those who chose to live there. I was struck also by how the novel reflected Australia's bush heritage.

Born in England in
Marc Donner
May 31, 2015 Marc Donner rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is the first of the Napoleon Bonaparte mysteries, originally published in the UK in 1929. It was published in the US under the title, "The Barrakee Mystery," which is what I have on my e-book reader.

Even recognizing that Americans and Australians in that era were a lot more racist than today, the book is difficult to read. The superficial racism, interestingly, is overshadowed in my mind by the structural racism built into the plot of the story. The underlying framework is based on the old
Apr 20, 2015 John rated it it was amazing
A marvelous book. Not just a detective story but also a thriller and a love story set (incidentally) in a saga describing the appalling treatment of the indigenous people of Australia by the white settlers.

Although the attitudes of the characters show how cheaply the lives of Aboriginal Australians were held, I don't believe that Upfield was himself an out and out racist but as an English immigrant I think it would have been very difficult not to be swept along by the attitudes prevailing at th
Dec 02, 2014 Jane rated it liked it
A wonderful old mystery (1929) that is marred, alas, by a streak of racism that now seems ludicrously stupid. The descriptions of the sheep farmer's lives are wonderful, ditto the Australian landscapes. I suppose the nearest American equivalent would be a Zane Grey novel like Riders of the Purple Sage, where the men are Manly with a capital M and the women - well, the women don't have much fun in this kind of book. Cooking, mending, birthing babies, then back to cooking. What makes this a stand ...more
Apr 22, 2016 Lemar rated it it was amazing
"I leave Barrakee less vain, less sure of myself, a better man than when I came." This reflective sentiment is spoken by our protagonist who is supremely confident in himself and is recognized for his brilliance but is still learning. At the heart of Upfield's mystery series is the essential dignity and decency of Bony, the half Aboriginal detective who makes his first appearance in this novel.
The characters are vibrant and memorable as they people the Australian outback of almost century ago.
Kathy H
Jan 12, 2015 Kathy H rated it did not like it
Somewhat Zane Grey in Australia's Outback. Perhaps the story is good but the racism is dreadful. This author wrote in the 1920s or so. Apparently he was an inspiration for one of my favourite authors, Tony Hillerman.

I rather think Arthur Upfield was trying to be benevolent and even writing in a manner that suggested more tolerance toward the Australian aboriginal people. However, the underlying malice of the English-speaking Whites toward the country's original inhabitants and animals in genera
Alaina Sloo
Oct 02, 2015 Alaina Sloo rated it really liked it
A wonderful series detective novel series, written from the 1920s to the 1960s. Most of the books in this series are set in or near towns or stations in the Australian bush. The books offer a wonderful sense of place and culture of the time, good mysteries to solve, and a half-aboriginal, half-white police detective called Napoleon Bonaparte, a character in the Sherlock Holmes mold. A few of the Napoleon Bonaparte books are set in larger towns or cities, but I think the books set in the bush are ...more
Beth Revers
Nov 19, 2013 Beth Revers rated it really liked it
Shelves: mys-read
As a mystery it was very well done, nicely misleading, and full of clues, the detective is fascinating. As a book it is very well written. That said WARNING this is written from a white Australian point of view in the 1920s And as such is so humanly and politically incorrect, that it is scary. Aboriginal Australians are not a subspecies nor are they disposable. If you can read this with a historians detachment to these things (yes your heart will be screaming no that is wrong) it is worth ...more
Apr 12, 2013 Debra rated it liked it
I really struggled with the prejudice against the aboriginals in this book, and nature versus nurture conclusion. However, detective Bony was a compelling figure, the description of the Australian outback was excellent, and there was some good suspense in the book. Considering the time in which the book was written, I guess the prejudice can be somewhat forgiven. I'm glad I read this book, but won't be continuing with the series.
Sep 18, 2011 Elizabeth rated it really liked it
Shelves: mysteries, australia
The is the first of the Napoleon Bonaparte mysteries written in 1929. Bony comes to a great spread in New South Wales to help solve the case of the murder of an aborigine King Henry. These early stories have a very different style that Upfield's later stories. This one has a wonderful sense of time and place. There is a great deal written about all the characters and least about Bony, although this unusual detective is clearly enough drawn to make me want to reread all the bony stories.
george burns
Jul 16, 2014 george burns rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Worthy Start

This is the first installment in Mr. Upfield's detective series featuring the Australian half-caste Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte. Amid the beauty and terror of the Australian outback, the inspector must find out who killed King Henry and why. With patience and compassion, Bonaparte probes the mystery with its never far from the surface racial tension. A first rate start to a great series.
Charmaine Clancy
Feb 26, 2014 Charmaine Clancy rated it really liked it
Shelves: aussie, crime
At first this story is a little uncomfortable to read, solely because of the level of racism indicated by the characters. But to portray them any other way would have been dishonest to the culture and people of the era it is set. Fun mystery, a few smaller hilarious characters, and one of the best fight scenes I've ever read.
Jan 25, 2016 Kathleen rated it it was ok
Interesting story and description of a time and place heretofore unknown to me, but the overt racism of the time (which is so very clearly accepted as usual) in this story written in the post World War 1 Australian outback made me unable to concentrate on the story line. I will not read more of this author.
Feb 04, 2015 Joni rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well-written piece of action mystery, set in the Australian outback of early 20th century. It is much a child of its time, racial prejudices being abundant. I had to look a lot of definitions from dictionary, most of them specified as (offensive). Can be read as a sort of satire, though.
Trip to Australia's Bush

Combination of Australia's history, naturalism, and romance rolled into one. This book is refreshingly NOT politically correct but reflects mores of the setting. Oh, and yes, there is mystery and a fascinating detective. Really enjoyed it.
David Molden
Apr 20, 2016 David Molden rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bony is eloquent

Besides speaking perfect English Bony has an insight into behavior and beyond. Upfield lets us see the best of Aboriginal beliefs and the whites prejudice against them from a 1950's perspective.
Liz Henry
Jul 09, 2014 Liz Henry rated it it was ok
Interesting for the history/geography of Australia but pretty racist so I can't recommend it unless you want to read with shields up. I think some of the later books in the series get more interesting.
May 12, 2013 Susan rated it really liked it
Shelves: mystery
Australia, an aborigine detective in a land were he is a native and quite different. He is steady and methodical and successful. I read what I could find of this series on my library shelves, years ago, and he was memorable.
Aug 12, 2015 Hermien rated it really liked it
Incredibly racist and politically incorrect, but considering it was written in 1929 not unexpected. Parts of it were also endearingly Australian so overall I enjoyed listening to it.
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Aka Arthur Upfield

Arthur William Upfield (1 September 1890 – 13 February 1964) was an Australian writer, best known for his works of detective fiction featuring Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte ('Bony') of the Queensland Police Force, a half-caste Aborigine.

Born in England, Upfield moved to Australia in 1910 and fought with the Australian military during the First World War. Following his wa
More about Arthur W. Upfield...

Other Books in the Series

Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte (1 - 10 of 29 books)
  • The Sands of Windee (Bony, #2)
  • Wings Above the Diamantina
  • Murder Down Under
  • Winds of Evil (A Scribner Crime Classics)
  • The Bone is Pointed (Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, #6)
  • The Mystery of Swordfish Reef
  • No Footprints in the Bush
  • Death of a Swagman
  • The Devil's Steps
  • An Author Bites the Dust

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