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Force and Fraud : A Tale of the Bush‘ by Ellen Davitt is regarded as the first Australian crime novel. It was first published in 1865. I discovered it recently and read it for ‘Southern Cross Crime Month‘ hosted by Kim from ‘Reading Matters’.

A rich man is found murdered in the bush. It looks like he was stabbed with a bowie knife. The knife belongs to a younger man who is engaged to this rich man’s daughter. This younger man pleads his innocence. But unfortunately for him, the evidence is against him. In addition to his knife being the murder weapon, this younger man’s garments are blood-stained. Also, the rich man hated this younger man and had told his daughter that he disapproved of her fiance and if she insisted on marrying him, he’d disown her and cut her off in his will. So the younger man has motive too. What actually happened and who is the actual murderer is revealed in the rest of the story.

Reading ‘Force and Fraud‘ was like watching an old movie. There is, of course, the central mystery, but the story is not just about the mystery. There is a huge cast of characters, there is humour and a comedy track, there is witty and sharp dialogue, there is wholesome entertainment for the whole family. There are many adorable characters in the story who have their own unique personality traits. The depiction of Australia of the middle of the 19th century is very fascinating and feels realistic, as it is probably based on the author’s own experiences. The revelation when it comes is not at all surprising – we can guess it a mile away – but that doesn’t take away our enjoyment of the novel.

The edition I read has a fascinating introduction about Ellen Davitt and her life – how she came to Australia as a teacher and how she ended up becoming a novelist. There is even a treat for quiz lovers – that Ellen Davitt was Anthony Trollope’s sister-in-law. I loved that introduction.

I’ll repeat here what I said in my previous post on Ellen Davitt –

“Ellen Davitt is regarded as the mother of Australian crime fiction. Her crime mystery ‘Force and Fraud : A Tale of the Bush’ was first published in 1865. It pre-dated Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes novel ‘A Study in Scarlet’ (published in 1887) by more than two decades. More interestingly, it pre-dated Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Moonstone’ (published in 1868) by a few years. ‘The Moonstone’ is regarded by many as the first detective crime mystery published. I don’t know why, because Ellen Davitt’s book came  before that. Out of the famous detective crime mysteries, only Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin mysteries pre-date Ellen Davitt’s book. Ellen Davitt was a pioneer and she broke new ground. She needs to be celebrated not just in Australia but across the world.”

It was wonderful to travel through the river (aka Australian crime fiction) and discover its source. It was like sailing in the middle of the gorge with tall mountains on both sides, and then the mountains end suddenly and the river widens and we see the beautiful town on the river bank unfurled in all its glory. The scene is splendid. It is spectacular. I’m honoured to be here.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite passages from the book.

“Nowhere is human nature exhibited with more truth than amongst the mixed community of a crowded ship; amongst people who embarked for the most part in amity towards each other, but who are now aroused from their better feelings by petty animosities, by the inconvenience attendant upon limited space or by want of occupation, and who jostle one another, and strive for pre-eminence – just as in the wider world, where every trade and calling illustrates the jealousy between man and man. But when they part at length, probably to meet no more, a kind of forgiveness of the past – a desire to obliterate all remembrance of the injury – generally takes the place of ill-will. It is as if they were making their peace with the dying, and (to continue the simile) after our fellow passengers of a voyage have been gone from the vessel a few weeks, they become as entirely forgotten as fellow-passengers through life who have gone to their graves.”

Have you read ‘Force and Fraud‘? What do you think about it? Did you participate in ‘Southern Cross Crime Month‘?

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