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The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish by…

The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish

by Tim Flannery

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Flannery, a museum curator, anthropologist, and visitant to the some of the more exotic locales of the South Pacific, brings all of that experience to this whimsical tale of murder in the museum. People who work(ed) with Flannery over the years must be having a field day identifying themselves and others in these affectionate (and otherwise) portraits of museum folk. Recommended for fans of quirky novels of detection, and of love stories set in the dusty archives. ( )
  nandadevi | Jul 22, 2015 |
Stay with me here, this is going to get complicated. THE MYSTERY OF THE VENUS ISLAND FETISH is a satirical, comic crime novel set within the realms of Sydney Museum. Written, supposedly by museum curator of worms, Dido Butterworth, the first complication is that the story comes straight from the voice of Assistant Curator Archibald Meek (more on that coming). Introduced by well known environmentalist and Australian identify Professor Tim Flannery, the next complication is that he actually wrote the thing, Dido Butterworth being a fictional character as well.

To make matters even more confusing the "manuscript" is mysteriously rediscovered embedded in the preserved remains of a museum exhibit, emerging into the light when it drops into view via the animal's.... well let's go with lower orifice and you can work it out from there.

Buried within the arch and slightly rambling style, the nub of the story revolves around the Fetish of the title, and the connection that Meek builds with the islands of it's origin, when he heads off on a field trip there, from which he is somewhat (by years) delayed in his return. That return finds him a fish out of water as he has matured during his time on the island, and assimilated to Island life, culture and customs extremely well. So his return to Sydney is full of social and societal clangers - from clothes that no longer fit, to tanned skin, to utter befuddlement over the horror when his common island custom love token turns out to be profoundly unacceptable to "polite" Sydney society.

In the middle of all of this there's a story about the origins of the Fetish and the mysterious disappearance of a museum curator but some readers would be forgiven for a slightly desperate feeling in trying to hang onto that central premise. It's hard to read THE MYSTERY OF THE VENUS ISLAND FETISH and wonder if the mystery isn't more about Flannery's use of this vehicle to fire a few poorly disguised barbs at detractors, anti-sciencers and a hefty dose of people who have annoyed him. Which, had this used a different vehicle, seems to this reader to have been a perfectly reasonable undertaking and one which would engender much agreement and sympathy in many quarters. Unfortunately the heavy-handed artifice of THE MYSTERY OF THE VENUS ISLAND FETISH, and the potential of some of that message clash so badly it's hard to divine what the book's really trying to achieve.

Needless to say we're talking a particular style of humour which includes a range of eccentric references to body parts (the Venus Island Fetish is made up of skulls, and in particular, their teeth which you'll need to pay attention to). There's also a range of vaguely Dickensian joke names (Meek's love interest Beatrice Goodenough as an example).

If the underlying agenda doesn't interest you, this might be a book that reader's with a preference for that sort of jolly hockey sticks, slightly exaggerated absurdist humour. For this reader, despite a distinct liking for absurdist styling, it was too-heavy handed to be that convincing, satisfying or even vaguely amusing.

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/review-mystery-venus-island-fetish-dido-b... ( )
  austcrimefiction | Jul 2, 2015 |
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"It's 1932, and the Great Venus Island Fetish, a ceremonial mask surrounded by thirty-two human skulls, now resides in a museum in Sydney, Australia. But young anthropologist Archie Meek, recently returned from an extended field trip to Venus Island, has noticed something amiss: a strange discoloration on some of the skulls. Has someone tampered with the fetish? Is there a link between it and the mysterious disappearance of Cecil Polkinghorne, curator of archaeology? And how did Eric Sopwith, retired mollusks expert, die in the museum's storeroom? Could Archie's life be at risk as well? But these are not the only concerns that weigh upon the assistant curator's mind. Why hasn't his beloved Beatrice--registrar, anthropology--accepted his proposal of marriage and the love token he brought back from Venus Island? Has something been lost in translation?"--… (more)

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