About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Battling Prophet by Arthur W. Upfield (1956)

The Battling Prophet by Arthur W. Upfield (1956) – I am going to have 2 entries this week for “U” in Kerrie Smith’s meme, The Alphabet in Crime Fiction. See her blog at Mysteries in Paradise. My next post will be a further profile of Arthur W. Upfield. 

In The Battling Prophet Bony takes a vacation, leave in his parlance, in the state of South Australia on the Murray River near to Mount Gambier. He arrives at the farm of John Luton in response to a letter from Luton concerning the death of Luton’s friend Ben Wickham. Bony decides to take 10 days off to go fishing with Luton and figure out what happened to Wickham.

Wickham had gained considerable notoriety for his talents as a self-taught meteorologist. He asserts he has discovered how to predict the weather from his study of 40 years of weather records. Governments and the establishment had scoffed at his claims. When he correctly predicted a severe drought and farmers started following his advice there is growing interest in and outside Australia over using his forecasts.

Luton refuses to accept the official cause of death – heart failure because of alcoholic poisoning. Luton and Wickham had been on one of their periodic epic benders but Luton says his friend did not die from their overindulgence in spirits.

Luton is a vigorous 84 and Wickham an equally active 75. In their younger days they had been bullock drivers together in the outback driving teams of 26-28 bullocks hauling huge loads.

While they do not drink to excess often they still have multi-day, even multi-week, benders. Usually they will confine their drinking to a single type of spirits. On this bender they have been drinking bottle after bottle of gin.

Before Wickham’s death they had decided to end the bender. From long experience they had learned they needed to have periodic small drinks to reduce the effects of delirium tremens. Every few hours they would have a drink.

It was shortly after one of these drinks that Wickham had died. Beyond his personal conviction that his friend’s heart would not have succumbed to drink, Luton has the most creative analysis for finding murder I may have read.

Luton is sure Wickham did not die from the D.T.’s, hoo-jahs in their words, because, at his death, Wickham was not displaying the type of hoo-jahs that come from drinking gin.

Luton precisely describes the different hoo-jahs to Bony:

“When we boozed on whiskey, the things we saw sort of grew before our eyes. When we blinked, they didn’t vanish, but stayed on the table, on our knees, wherever they happened to appear and grow like roses on a bush. Following a spell on rum, the things appear suddenly and vanish suddenly after playing around like they wanted to bite you. The gin hoo-jahs is still different. You see them out of the corner of your eye. They always stalk you from behind, and when you turn to look at ‘em, they aren’t there. Understand?”

Just prior to perishing, Wickham was seeing things on his legs and feet and laughing at them. Those were not the gin hoo-jahs.

Luton is positive that government or commercial interests who dislike Wickham’s weather work have reason to want him dead.

The local doctor, police and minister have been dismissive of Luton. Bony, while not specifically agreeing with Luton, decides to see what reaction his presence provokes in the community.

When he lets word filter out there is an immediate response by all areas of officialdom that is capped by directions from his superior in distant Queensland to return to his home.

As Bony probes the reactions to his unofficial investigation become more dramatic.

It is a good, not great, mystery. Some of the forces against Bony are not really credible but it was interesting to see Bony dealing with a different kind of murder.

It is the first time I have read a Bony mystery that did not include involvement with aboriginal people.

I appreciated learning of Bony’s origins. Bony said:

“I was found beneath a sandalwood tree, found in the arms of my mother, who had been clubbed to death for breaking a law. Subsequently, the matron of the Mission Station to which I was taken and reared found me eating the pages of Abbotts’s Life of Napoleon Bonaparte. The matron possessed a peculiar sense of humour. The result – my name. Despite the humour, she was a great woman. Aware of the burden of birth I would always have to carry, she built for me the foundations of my career. My entry to the Queensland Police Department came about after I had won my M.A. at the Brisbane University, …..”

I continue to enjoy the series and have found it does not really matter that I am not reading them in order. Bony is a keen observer of humankind and a tenacious police officer. He will not let go until he resolves a case. (Oct. 6/12)


  1. Bill - An excellent choice for U. I like Arthur Upfield's work very much, and I do like the character of Bony. Oh, and the setting for the series too. I'm looking forward to your profile of Upfield himself.

  2. I remember reading and enjoying this book when it appeared. The character of Wickham ( as a weather forecaster, not a drinker!) is based on a real person whose name I've forgotten. The Bony books are not exactly well-written, but always interesting. Death of a Lake is generally regarded as Upfield's best. One of the poorer ones, The Mountains have a Secret, is an interesting downunder riff on a popular theme.

  3. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I am glad to have come across Upfield last year. He has provided mysteries from a place and time in that country of which I had not read mysteries.

  4. Anne H.: Thanks for making a comment. I will try to find the name of the weather forecaster which inspired the book. I shall keep an eye out in bookstores for Death of a Lake. I hope you will comment again.

  5. Hi Bill! The name of the weather forecaster is Inigo Owen Jones. He was very well known at the time, and I found him on the internet once I remembered his name. Some Bony books are reprinted more often than others, but any would be worth collecting even though the plots became less original and often more far-fetched towards the end of Upfield's writing career. However you may be interested to check out the history of one of his early ones, The Sands of Windee. The murder method was copied and actually used in an actual killing. This episode in Upfield's writing life was the basis of a Tv drama that aired a couple of years ago here in Australia.

  6. Anne H: Thanks for passing on the name of Inigo Owen Jones. It was fascinating to read of his life and readily apparent how Upfield drew upon his life in creating The Battling Prophet.

    I will also be looking for The Sands of Windee.

  7. I read a few of these when I was younger and enjoyed them. Would like to try them again. Good to hear that you are liking them out of order. Seems like it would be hard to find them in order.

  8. Well, I have to disagree with Anne about the books being "not exactly well-written." I have read his several of his early books (none past 1955) and find them all far better than many of his contemporaries. Perhaps she has a problem with old fashioned syntax? This review has got me itching to dig into the many Upfield books I own and have not yet read: THE DEVIL'S STEPS, THE BONE IS POINTED and MAN OF TWO TRIBES especially)

  9. I find Upfield's prose rather clumsy and clunky; it doesn't exactly flow. This need not spoil one's enjoyment of the books. Thanks to such as John Ball in the US, Upfield has become more highly esteemed there than in Australia, though as a writer of 'ethnic' crime and an exotic. He is not regarded as such in this country, nor taught in university courses as he apparently is or was there.
    Three more good titles to mention: The Mystery of Swordfish Reef, Cake in a Hatbox, which contains some very interesting aboriginal lore, and The Clue of the New Shoe.

  10. TracyK.: Thanks for the comment. I hope you will read Upfield again and provide your own reviews. I am surprised by the number of his books in the Bony series in paperback I have been able to find in Canadian used bookstores.

  11. John: Thanks for your comment. I hope you will read and review Upfield. I do not think much about whether a book was well written. If it holds my interest I generally think it well written. Upfield holds my interest with his plots.

  12. Anne H.: Thanks for your comment. I do not find Upfield's writing clumsy and chunky. I would agree he is not a smooth writer.

    I did not find the Bony series through North American sources. I was in Australia looking for Australian mysteries and came across Bony in a used bookshop.

    Cake in the Hat Box was my first Bony mystery. I found myself fascinated by this sleuth solving murders in the vast open lands of Australia despite the prejudice shown him.