Wings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. Upfield


MysteryWings Above the Diamantina by Arthur W. UpfieldIt’s the Bush Outback in the 1930’s, with cattle ranches further than the eye can see in Western Australia. While checking out the ranch one day,  manager Nettlefold and his daughter Elizabeth discover a monoplane landed on one of the few flat patches on the ranch. In it is a paralyzed girl strapped in the front seat. She couldn’t have flown the plane from the front, but there aren’t any tracks on the sandy ground showing a pilot walking away. They take her back to the house and call in the doctor and local policeman.

The mysterious girl is alive but can’t move a muscle, not even her eyelids. The Nettlefolds didn’t look in the plane for any identification. The next morning when they return, the plane has been blown up and burned. Again, there aren’t any visible footsteps anywhere around other than their own. Sergeant Cox calls in to his superiors for help. It comes in the form of the famous Inspector Napoleon “Bony” Bonaparte, the half-caste policeman who works on the intriguing crimes in the Bush.

The airplane had been stolen the night before the girl was found from a visitor in the nearest town. Only two local people in the region know how to pilot a plane. Neither of them claim to have flown it although they went out when the owner discovered it missing. Whoever it was knows the area well in order to escape without being noticed by the locals. They may be spread out in miles, but the region is like a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business.

Bony has to discover who the paralyzed girl is, why she is in the Outback, who drugged her and with what, who stole the plane, and why all this has happened. He examines all the people involved, from the people within the Nettlefold’s home to all the surrounding ranches and the people in the closest town. Something has to lead to the solution of the mystery and the identity of the person who tried to kill the girl in an airplane crash. That person will succeed if an antidote isn’t discovered.

For years my father and sister have been telling me to read the “Bony stories”. I picked up copies when I noticed them in the used bookstore, I finally picked this one up and was immediately enchanted. Arthur W. Upfield brings a sense of reality to the vastness, tamed wilderness, dangers, and joy of the Australian Outback 80 years ago.

Wings Above the Diamantina is well plotted with non-existent tracks, a practically impossible plane crash landing, people’s secrets, and family histories all twined together. Upfield keeps the reader guessing and adds comedy and romance to maintain interest.

I was interested to see that people and attitudes don’t change with time. Wings Above the Diamantina was published in the mid-1930s. The nearest town, Golden Dawn, is a small, dying town in the middle of nowhere. It once had been bigger, but the nearby mine has played out and now there are only the ranches and those people needed to support civilization. Only last month I read The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend, which is about another small, dying town in Iowa.

About a third of the way into Wings Above the Diamantina Bony is driving across the Outback with the ranch manager. Nettlefold observes that the lessees of the land don’t care what is happening to the earth around them. He says “the face of Queensland was destined to be altered by the end of another hundred years”. Environmental concerns are still an issue. I wonder what differences Upfield would see if he could visit the region now.

For good, classic mystery writing, check out Arthur W. Upfield’s Bony series. Wings Above the Diamantina won’t be the last one I read.

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