The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish

by Dido Butterworth

(otherwise known as Tim Flannery)

This is my ninth review for the Aussie Author Challenge 2015 at Booklover Book Reviews (first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixthseventh and eighth).

From the back cover:

It was the eyes. 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 something amiss.

Has someone tampered with the fetish? Is there a link between the puzzling disappearances of museum curators and the strangely discoloured skulls on the primitive artefact? Could Archie be next? But murder, mystery and malevolence are not the only things on the assistant curator’s mind. Why hasn’t Beatrice – registrar, anthropology – accepted his Venus Island love token and proposal of marriage?

This is a fun book, somewhat in the vein of Agatha Christie, where unpleasant deaths are glossed over and red herrings thrown about with mad abandon. It does, however, touch on some serious issues, particularly the dispossession and slaughter of countless Aboriginal people during the colonisation of Australia, as well as the ethical questions of purchasing and displaying human remains and cultural artefacts in museums. There’s also a love story, ridiculous punny names and some historical detail about 1930s Sydney. It’s well written, well researched (several characters, as well as the appearance of the Venus Island fetish, are drawn from real life) and very easy to read.

It was a nice change to read a murder mystery set in Australia, and a museum and its rather odd employees makes a perfect setting for suspicious deaths. The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish might suit someone who likes murder mysteries of the lighter variety, or is looking for fiction set in Australia which doesn’t shy away from the grim reality of Australia’s past.


The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish fulfils the #male author, #fiction book, #author new to me and #book published in 2014 or 2015 tags of the Aussie Author Challenge 2015.

So far I have read:

5 books by a female author (+1 female co-author)

3 books by a male author (+1 male co-author)

5 non-fiction books

4 fiction books

9 books by an author who is new to me

6 books published in 2014 or 2015


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