#1929 Club: The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur Upfield and The Patient in Room 18 by Mignon G. Eberhart

Napoleon ‘Bony’ Bonaparte, born to a White father and an Australian Aboriginal woman, had been on my wishlist for a long time. I was curious to read a ‘mixed-race’ protagonist when the detectives were, for the most part, propah British gentlemen. So when the 1929 club approached and I saw that Bony’s debut was in that year, I immediately got down to reading it. And then left it…. and it’s only now that the last day of the reading event is upon us that I have steeled myself to finish it.

It is a very tough book to read. The rampant racism is too much. It is one thing to say that it was the norm at that time, absolutely another thing to read it and as otherwise hardworking, decent men and women (let’s not forget the women) ask the police why they are chasing a White man who after all has only killed a Black man and wasting the tax payer’s money to boot, I felt the gorge rise. Though, I must add the police force is very conscientious. They have to catch a murderer and though they might sympathise with him, it does not stop them from doing their duty. And so I was sad that they cut such a sorry figure.

Very briefly, a man William Clair is working at the ranch of Mr. Thornton, a generous, hardworking squatter. Thornton and his wife adore their son, Ralph, who has just returned from college when the novel opens. They also hope that Ralph marry Kate, who is their ward. Unknown to them, another young man, Frank Dugdale, the son of a friend of Mr. Thornton is also in love with Kate though as he is just an employee of Thornton, he dare not confess his feelings to her. The day the engagement of the young people is announced, Kate discovers that she loves Frank rather than Ralph who meanwhile finds himself increasingly attracted towards Nellie, an Aboriginal woman who is supposed to have a White father.

Meanwhile a murder occurs on the ranch. King Henry, an Aborigine, is found dead and as the Sergeant Knowles finds it difficult to solve the crime, they call on Bony to help them do so. The melodrama of the Thornton family, the suspicious behavior of Clair, and Bony’s deductions give the opportunity for the author to depict the life of the Australian Bush. This was very interesting at first and I even enjoyed the Australian colloquialisms but after sometime it became too exasperating and the worshipping of White Womanhood became too much to take. Still, however, I’d have overlooked everything had it not been for this sentence: “… took to her bosom a living asp.”

As must be clear, the novel definitely did not turn out the way, I had hoped it would. Let alone the warped world-view, even the mystery was pathetic and the reveals sprang no surprise But Bony, though he seemed to have internalized many things regarding the civilised superiority of the Whites and the corresponding savage inferiority of the Blacks, did hold out promise of better things as his comments at times indicated: “The Yarra blacks, now unhappily wiped out by you gentle white people…” or “My ancestors on my mother’s side knew not Christ, but they were better Christians than the Emperor’s jailers.” So I’ll definitely read more of his cases.

Have you read his other books? Which one would you recommend?


First Line: With eyes fixed thoughtfully on the slow-moving muddy stream of the River Darling, William Clair lounged in the golden light of the setting sun.

Publication Details: 1929. Exile Bay: ETT Imprint, 2017.

Alternate Title: The Lure of the Bush

Series: Bony #1

Pages: 286

Other Opinions: Mack’s Stack of Books…and Stuff , My Reader’s Block, Mysteries in Paradise, Writers who Kill


My last review for the event is another debut, that of Nurse Sarah Keate, the creation of American author Mignon G. Eberhart. The novel opens with nurse Keate recounting as to why Room No. 18 in the hospital, she works in , St. Ann’s has acquired such an evil reputation: patients ask not to be put in that room and the hospital staff refuses to go inside it. It all began with a dinner when Dr. Letheney invited Sarah and her friend and colleague, Maida Day to his home. Two other doctors, Balman and Hajek, as well as Jim Gainsay, an old friend of Dr. Lethney who was on his way to Russia, were the other guests at the party which was hosted by Corole, Dr. Letheney’s cousin. Soon, however, Sarah began to feel oppressive not only from the clammy weather but also the tensions in the room with Corole and Lethany’s dislike for each other coming to the fore, Corole being catty, Maida stand-offish, and Jim’s attraction to Maida becoming obvious much to the distress of Lethney. The only one interested in dinner was apparently Dr. Balman who needed funds for his research but was being denied by the Directors of the hospital. There was also talk of the patient in Room 18 who was being treated with radium.

As must be obvious, very soon after the dinner, the unfortunate patient was found dead and the radium missing. When Sarah called up Dr. Letheney’s home, he wasn’t there and Dr. Balman had to come over. The police too was called and Detective O’Leary took the help of Sarah in solving the case.

I enjoyed the book though some of the things would seem so unbelievable now. Power cuts in hospital forcing the staff to resort to candles being the most prominent. There are also the usual GAD tropes of characters being on suspicious errands at the time of the murder and a character claiming that s/he knows something but won’t divulge and ending up dead. I do not know about the other books but Sarah doesn’t seem very observant in this first case: the tension between Maida and Dr. Lethney for one, the danger that the janitor might be in, for another. Also I did not like the fact that while the police is sure that both Mathilda and Corole are hiding something, they grill the latter but not the former (and the reason behind that is rather sad). In fact, Mathilda seems to be treated as someone precious by almost every character despite the fact that I found her hard-as-nails.

The mystery was okay but what stood out for me was Eberhart’s talent in creating a tense and sinister atmosphere. I will definitely be reading more of her. Any recommendations?


First Line: St. Ann’s is an old hospital, sprawling in a great heap of weather-stained red brick and green ivy on the side of Thatcher Hill, a little east and south of the city of B_

Publication Details: 1929. Thorndike: Thorndike Press, 1994.

Dedicated to: William and Margaret Good

Series: Nurse Sarah Keate #1

Pages: 396

Other Opinions: Crossexamining Crime, My Reader’s Blog, The Mystillery Blog


Both the books are available @ Open Library.



7 thoughts on “#1929 Club: The Barrakee Mystery by Arthur Upfield and The Patient in Room 18 by Mignon G. Eberhart

  1. I’m very glad you liked both of these, Neeru. I really enjoy Upfield’s writing, although I must confess, I haven’t read all of his work. Among many other things, I feel he was really skilled at evoking the setting and culture. The mysteries are interesting, too, in my opinion, and solidly plotted. I hope you” get the chance to read more.


  2. What an interesting pairing and neither are authors I’ve read. I have heard of Upfield’s character, but it sounds like this was harder to take than some vintage mysteries. As for Eberhardt I do own one of her books and am keen to get to it at some points – she sounds interesting!

    Liked by 1 person

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