Arthur Upfield's Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte Mystery series was written between the late 1930's and the early 1960's. His protagonist, "Bony," is an intelligent, talented police inspector in Australia. He is also "half-caste," half caucasian and half aborigine. Because of the time period when these novels were written, there's a certain amount of racism depicted in them. Bony feels a certain insecurity in his bi-racial status, and yet Upfield depicts him as dignified and sure of his abilities as a detective. Bony leaves no case unsolved. Upfield's mysteries are informative about a very different time and culture, and are good mysteries with satisfying (if sometimes unexpected) endings.
In DEATH OF A LAKE, Bony goes undercover as a horsebreaker to investigate the probable death of a lottery winner who went for a swim in Lake Otway one night and never came back.
A generation ago Upfield wrote a series of books about his Australian detective hero, a half-Aborigine police detecitve named Napoleon Bonaparte. A brilliant, mystical, and fragile character with an understanding of both the white man and aboriginal culture, all the books are readable, although they do vary widely in plausibility.
This is the best one I've read. It's high summer in the outback, and there's a murder at an isolated station near an intermittent lake that's about to evaporate in the deadly heat. Everyone at the station house suspects and resents each other, feelings which grow and grow as the book builds and builds. It's a dangerous place for a detective in disguise.
But the best part of the book isn't the mystery. Upfield's greatest talent was in describing the natural life of his Australia, he can bring the beauty, mystery, and power of an overwhelming land vividly to life. As the tension in the house grows and the danger increases, the temperature soars to 120 degrees and above, the lake outside dies by inches, the water level sinking by feet per day, acres of lake vanishing, the wildlife fleeing or dying. It's a hard trick to put this much nature in a book without being heavy-handed or having it come accross as bad metaphors, but it's very successful here. The lake is the star, the people merely provide a story. Way cool!
The Upfield Napoleon Bonaparte series give a great feel for the setting of early to mid 20th century Australia but are generally a little weak in plot. Good light read.