Book Review – THE MYSTERY OF THE VENUS ISLAND FETISH by Dido Butterworth, Tim Flannery

The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish by Tim FlanneryThe Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish Synopsis :

Painted in white, red and black ochre, the heart-shaped mask was one of the greatest creations of primitive man. The size of a dining table, it was carved with crazed, spiky lines that told of its maker’s dangerous insanity. The nose, with its wide-open nostrils, sat above a great slash of a mouth filled with jagged, blackened, pig’s teeth. But these horrors were not what one first noticed. It was the eyes that drew you in. Bloodshot. Manic. Hypnotic. They had been fashioned from pearl shells smeared with red ochre, the irises blackened spirals made from cone shells. They pulled at Archie’s soul as powerfully as a vortex.

It’s 1932, and the Venus Island fetish, a ceremonial mask surrounded by thirty-two human skulls, now resides in the museum in Sydney. But young anthropologist Archie Meek, recently returned from an extended field trip to Venus Island, has noticed a strange discoloration of some of the skulls of the fetish. Has someone been tampering with the primitive artefact? Is there a link between the mysterious disappearance of Cecil Polkinghorne, curator of archaeology, and the fetish? And how did Eric Sopwith, retired mollusks expert, die in the museum’s storeroom?

The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish is a delightfully risque romp, full of eccentric characters, intrigue and adventure.

Author ‘Dido Butterworth’, Edited and introduced by Tim Flannery  (Text Publishing)


This novel represents a distinct departure from Tim Flannery’s useful topical non-fiction, and its writing was clearly a cathartic experience for him.

I think Street’s Sydney Morning Herald description ‘at times gloriously silly’ is spot on. I was for the most part entertained by what seems an intentionally loose, rollicking yarn – the decadent literary word choices (e.g. ‘ensorcelled’, ‘costive’, ‘reynard’), overtly suggestive names and humour in the vein of the 70s television series ‘Are You Being Served?‘.

One could not help but barrack for Flannery’s hapless protagonist Archie Meek and his dear friend Dithers, although the compulsion to read on was principally to see what outlandish thing the colourful cast of charicatures would say and do next.

It’s not all ‘beer and skittles’ though. In the The Mystery of The Venus Island Fetish, through mockery and lampoonery, Flannery delivers a scathing critique of the treatment of indigenous cultures and the corruption/incompetence that pervaded societal institutions in the not so distant past. Satire of the darkest variety.

Looseness to this extent, in both humour and the novel’s construct, will not be to everyone’s tastes. I was in a light-hearted mood at the time so it worked for me.

Recommended for readers willing to suspend belief who connect with older-style humour.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5

The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish by Tim Flannery
Available from:
Book Depository | AmazonKobobooksBooktopia(Aus)

Genre: Humour, Historical, Romance, Action-Adventure

This review counts towards my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2016

Author Information: Nothing is known of Miss Dido Butterworth, curator of worms (retired). Museum records contain no employee of that name, though there is speculation that the name is a pseudonym for Hans Schmetterling, curator of worms (1936-55). Tim Flannery, author of several works of non-fiction, was curator of mammals at the Sydney Museum 1984-99.

Other reviews of The Mystery of The Venus Island Fetish :  AustCrimeFiction ; The Australian ; Publishers Weekly

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