The Bone Is Pointed (1938) is the sixth in Arthur W. Upfield’s series on the mixed-descent Indigenous-Australian Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte, informally known as Bony. In this instalment, Bony is called to the bush country where a man went missing five months ago. Few people really care what happened to Jack Anderson. He was a cruel man with a nasty temper who employed his whip on those who crossed him. Have the bush men exacted revenge for his beating of one of their own? Has his rival in love disposed of him? Or has something else happened to him. Bony must follow the clues along a trail long gone cold–but he is half Aboriginal himself and knows the ways of the back country, and he has never left a case unsolved yet. But it looks like he might have to. As his sharp eyes pick out small signs along the missing man’s last known trail, there are those who are worried. And they’re not afraid to use bush country magic to curse this outsider who seems to have magic of his own when it comes to unearthing secrets they would prefer to stay buried. Can Bony fight the “boning” magic that most back country men believe can kill? He’ll have to if he’s to get to the bottom of the disappearance of Anderson.
The old but still popular series was written from the 1920s to the 1960s, enjoying frequent re-editions in different countries (hence the frequent change of titles). Most of the books in this series are set in or near towns or stations in the Australian bush. The books offer a great sense of place and culture of the time, good mysteries to solve, and an ethnically ambiguous detective who balances his ‘innate’ knack re understanding of the Bush to his Holmesian logic. Typically, Bony’s settings avoid larger towns or cities, and the bush is where the narration is at its most evocative and the main character at his best. The outspoken racism of the series may be difficult to digest, as well as the series’ general attitude towards women, as the novels are grounded in the cult of white male mateship—but, as different commentators point out, with a twist. The latter has all to do with Upfield’s outsider status in Australian society and the sympathy he felt for bush life and its Indigenous inhabitants. If we can still enjoy Upfield’s novels, it is because he broke new ground in Australian crime fiction by writing up the mixed-descent protagonist as being able to perform well in both black and white society. Whereas the Indigenous author Philip McLaren has been very critical of Upfield’s stereotyping of the Aborigene, some scholars have also commended his exploration of race matters in Australian crime fiction. It should therefore not come as a surprise that Upfield, in the racist setting of the earlier 20th century, was more popular abroad, especially the USA, than in Australia.