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Literature / Bony

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Bony — properly speaking, Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte — is the protagonist of a long-running Australian series of detective novels by Arthur Upfield. The first novel of the series, The Barakee Mystery, was published in 1929, and sequels continued to appear until the author's death in the 1960s.

A university-educated police officer, Bony is half-Aboriginal but was orphaned at a very early age and raised in the white man's society. He got his name at the orphanage after being found teething on a volume of JSC Abbott's History of Napoléon Bonaparte. He is also familiar with Aboriginal culture, which often proves useful, and frequently works undercover, using his "half-caste" heritage to disguise his level of education.

The novels were adapted for radio early on, and for television in the 1970s under the title Boney. In the 1990s, there was a TV series called Bony starring Cameron Daddo as Detective David Bonaparte, supposedly a descendant of the novels' Bony.


Tony Hillerman was influenced by this series.

The novels provide examples of:

  • Blackmail: The murder motive in The Barrakee Mystery involves a secret from decades earlier which the victim had begun blackmailing one of the other characters over.
  • Book Ends: In The Barrakee Mystery, the first scene set at Barrakee Station begins with Martha bringing tea out to Mrs Thornton on the verandah, and the last scene begins with Martha bringing tea out to Kate on the same verandah.
  • Damsel in Distress: If there is a sweet little girl beloved by all characters, she will be kidnapped and Bony will have to track her down. If a plucky young woman is present, she will be injured and require assistance. Even the tough policewoman is subject to this.
  • Does Not Like Shoes: In The Barrakee Mystery, Mrs Thornton is in a running conflict with her Aboriginal servant Martha, who (although otherwise conforming to civilized dress standards) contrives to lose whatever shoes Mrs Thornton gives her to wear. At the time of the murder, they've temporarily compromised on a pair of men's boots, which confuses the evidence trail because the murderer left the print of the same style of boot. In the end, Mrs Thornton dies and Martha is last seen with "her feet unencumbered by hateful, unnatural footwear".
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  • The Exotic Detective: A part-Aboriginal detective in remote Australia.
  • Glass Weapon: In one of the novels, the victims are killed with coloured glass daggers that were once used as props in a magic act to which characters are connected.
  • Half-Breed Discrimination: Bony is one of the fortunate examples. Others are not so fortunate. Depicted in the series similarly to Harmony Versus Discipline, with (white) discipline being the preferred option.
  • In the Blood: In The Barrakee Mystery, it's taken as read that a person with Aboriginal ancestry will never be entirely comfortable in white society and will always sooner or later hear the call of the bush — to the point that a character who was raised as white starts reverting to the traditional lifestyle and manifesting skills like animal tracking even before they learn about their ancestry. (Bony himself has found a balance: he has his niche in white society, but there are also times when disappears into the bush for a while to live in the ways of his ancestors.)
  • Magical Negro: Some Aboriginal shamans are depicted this way and are able to communicate telepathically to pass messages, wake unconscious characters, and the like.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: In The Barrakee Mystery, a white man falls in love with an Aboriginal woman; her family don't mind, but it draws opprobrium from all his white family and friends who find out. For what it's worth, some of them are as much provoked that in so doing he's ditching the woman he had been going to marry. The path is (somewhat uncomfortably) smoothed by the revelation that, although he was raised believing himself white, his own father was Aboriginal. This revelation comes along with another example of the trope from the other direction: his mother's brother, who knew his parentage, had been against his original marriage plan, considering that he wasn't good enough for a white woman.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: In The Barrakee Mystery, the Aboriginal girl Nellie Wanting's mother claims her father was an Aboriginal man known as "King Henry", but some other members of the tribe say they doubt it. It's never established who Nellie's father was, but it can be assumed that it wasn't King Henry because the author pairs her romantically with a man who turns out to be one of King Henry's sons.
  • Running Gag:
    • Bony's self-rolled cigarettes are regularly described as horrible, disgusting, or alleged.
    • In The Barrakee Mystery, a Boisterous Bruiser farmhand has a running feud with the local constabulary because every time he goes into town on leave he winds up getting arrested on a drunk and disorderly charge; the running joke is that he believes they pick on him whenever they need someone to whitewash the police station for free.
  • Sand In My Eyes: At the end of The Barrakee Mystery, a rough-and-tumble bushman is unexpectedly done a good turn; he wipes an arm across his eye, which the narration attributes to a speck of dust in his eye. He then quickly leaves, feeling more specks of dust coming on.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Bony has his moments.
  • Suck Out the Poison: Happens occasionally due to copious Australian snakes.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Appear in a couple post-WWII novels.
  • Unable to Support a Wife: In The Barrakee Mystery, the overseer of Barakee Station, Frank Dugdale, is in love with the boss's niece but doesn't feel able to propose to her until he's worked his way up to owning a property of his own. Blair, one of the station hands, has a more comedic version of a similar dilemma.
  • Year X: In The Barrakee Mystery, set in the late 1920s, a letter is dated "August 12th, 19—". (However, the first sentence of the letter refers to the events of "Saturday, March 5th", which pins it to 1927.)

The adaptations provide examples of:

  • Ascended Extra: Constable McGorr only appeared in two novels, Murder Must Wait and The Battling Prophet, but was made a regular character in the 1970s series so that Bony would have somebody to explain his thought processes to.
  • Everybody Is Single: In the novels, Bony is middle-aged and married with children; in the 1970s TV series, he's twenty years younger and single.
  • Setting Update: The 1970s TV series was set in the 1970s.
  • Spin-Offspring: The 1990s TV series.
  • The Watson: Constable McGorr in the 1970s series.