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. A 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.”