ARTHUR W. UPFIELD. The New Shoe (1951).

27 May

Toward the end of this spare, somber tale, one of the hardy folk who populate the Australian coastal village of Split Point says to Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, “You are the agent of Nemesis.” Indeed he is. NewShoe.jpgA half-caste, with the brown skin of his aborigine mother and the blue eyes of his white father, Bonaparte has the raw cunning and the bottomless persistence of a born tracker, and he always gets his man. This case requires Bony (as both his creator and his police comrades call him) to undertake a twofold tracking job. First, he must trace the identity of a naked corpse found in the Split Point Lighthouse. Second, he must hunt down the party or parties who put a bullet through the man whom that corpse had once been. Clues are scarce, consisting mainly of a pile of the victim’s clothing that—along with the eponymous new shoe—turns up in a nearby cave.

Bony, pretending to be a sheep rancher on holiday, gets to know the locals, as well as the ocean-etched landscape from which they sprang. They are the sea-salt of the earth, as it were, and Bony likes them all: the happy-go-lucky day laborers who drive a truck full of lumber across a perilous mountain route; the sad, half-sane Mary Wessex, who dreams of childhood pirate games and of men who went to war and never came back; the old craftsman Mr. Penwarden, who sculpts custom-made coffins that will last for ages in the unforgiving country ground. But, like the lighthouse, the people who live in its shadow send a mixed signal; they bid a visitor welcome, yet also warn him away. No one of their kind, they insist, could have anything to do with the dead man or his killing. While Bony locates spoors of the crime in Melbourne and in other dens of urban vice, his pursuit leads back to Split Point, where he must deal out truth and justice in his own semi-legal fashion. Relentless but not ruthless, Bony comes across as a Maigret of the bush—as a man, writes Upfield, “whose infinite patience was equalled by limitless sympathy.”


Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Golden Age, Novel, Puzzle


7 responses to “ARTHUR W. UPFIELD. The New Shoe (1951).

  1. TomCat

    May 27, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    Another good, to-the-point review! Arthur Upfield was an interesting writer and one that deserves less neglect from this reader, but I definitely liked what little I read of him up to this point. Death of a Lake and Man of Two Tribes beautifully evoked a picture of the draught stricken wastelands of the Australian out bush, and the latter has a murder committed under the most bizarre circumstances imaginable. It even outweirds some of Ellery Queen’s books!

  2. Mike

    May 28, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    As yet, I’ve only read this one by Upfield. (It’s one of the 12 classic mystery titles that UCSD brought in a very handsome series back in the 1970s, and I’ve made my way through almost all of them over the years.) I should, indeed, read more by him. Like Finding Maubee, this book combines local color, exotic goings-on, engaging characters, and a sustained focus on actual detection, all in a modest–but by no means modestly entertaining–package. Alas, no one writes that sort of novel anymore, or at any rate no one will publish it.

  3. George Kelley

    June 3, 2011 at 6:55 AM

    I’m a fan of Upfield’s mysteries. I just found seven books in the series at a Library book sale. Maybe, someday, all of Upfield’s books will be available as ebooks.

    • Mike

      June 3, 2011 at 9:10 AM

      Thanks for the comment. The advent of e-books, no doubt, will ultimately be a boon to all lovers of older crime and mystery writers. It’s clear that print publishers have less and less interest in re-issuing classic books like those by Upfield, and the availability of e-book editions will inevitably improve over time. But, for reasons that are both sentimental and materialistic, I still want to have physical copies of the books that I read. Perhaps the availability and the quality of print-on-demand books will improve as well.

  4. Richard

    June 3, 2011 at 1:51 PM

    I have 9 of these books by Upfield, none of them this one. I wish I did have this one, it sounds very good indeed.

  5. lesblatt

    May 24, 2012 at 2:35 PM

    Sorry to be so late finding this blog, Mike, but delighted to read your review of “The new Shoe.” I think it’s one of Upfield’s best, along with “Man of Two Tribes” and “Death of a Swagman.” Bony is one of my favorites and I do wish a publisher would get his books back into print!

    Thanks for the link, by the way, and I’ve put you on my blogroll as well over at

    Les Blatt

  6. Mike

    May 24, 2012 at 4:05 PM

    Les: I’m not sure why, but I put off reading Upfield for a great many years. I’ve still read only this one of his books (there are so many other books out there, all with a worthy claim on one’s attention!)–but I appreciate the tip in which others I should seek out.

    Thanks for adding me to your blogroll.


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