Title: All the Tears in China
Author: Sulari Gentill
Genre: Historical Crime
Publisher: Pantera Press
Published: 21st January 2019
Synopsis: Shanghai in 1935 is a twentieth-century Babylon, an expatriate playground where fortunes are made and lost, where East and West collide, and the stakes include life itself.
Into this, Rowland Sinclair arrives from Sydney to represent his brother at international wool negotiations. Rowland is under strict instructions to commit to nothing… but a brutal murder makes that impossible.
As suspicion falls on him, Rowland enters a desperate bid to find answers in a city as glitzy as it is dangerous, where tai-pans and tycoons rule, and politics and vice are entwined with commerce.
Once again, the only people Rowland can truly trust are an artist, a poet and a free-spirited sculptress.
“A sparkling crime series… Evelyn Waugh meets Agatha Christie…” – THE AGE
In the ninth outing with Rowland Sinclair, and his three friends – Jew, Communist and poet – Elias Isaacs, known as Milton Isaacs, the sculptress, Edna Higgins and landscape artist – Clyde Watson-Jones – find themselves in China, on a wool trading expedition for Rowly’s older brother, Wilfred. Instead, Rowly is first attacked in light of the events of the previous book, where Rowly helped out Egon Kisch – twice – and then, meets a young woman who says her name is Alexandra Romanova – a taxi girl who is supposedly rumoured to be the lost princess Anastasia – in 1935, almost twenty years after the Russian Revolution, rumours still abound about one Romanov royal escaping the death squad, but there are also those who believe the truth – is found dead in Rowly’s suite. He is then suspected by the local inspector of murdering Alexandra, as does her brother, Sergei. It is the presence of this Russian family in Shanghai illustrates the rise of Communism and the dangers in Germany, and threats from Japan to China build the backbone to this story.
Inspector Randolph, and several others behind the scenes, are convinced, based on circumstances, that Rowly is guilty. With very little evidence, Rowly is sent to the Ward Road Gaol, where the treatment of prisoners is awful, and where he is mistreated, and where the warden is determined to make his time there terrible – and those who are involved in trying to destroy the Sinclair name, and the lengths they will go to.
Rowly and his friends find themselves in an ever-changing world of politics – fascists, Communists, Nazis, and the rise of Hitler, and the clashes of the New and Old Guard back home in Australia, and conservative brother, Wilfred, trying to pull Rowly to his side of politics and away from his friends, yet Rowly is still wary of becoming involved in either side of politics and the extremes of both sides that bubbled and brewed over decades and culminated in World War Two – events that seem to be mirrored in events today, with the rise of similar groups on either side, with some more prominent than others, and leaders with certain attitudes that Rowly would find absolutely abhorrent. The books are eerily starting to mirror what is happening today – or maybe today’s events are starting to mirror the times Rowly is living through. Or it could be a combination of both.
With each Rowland Sinclair mystery, we move closer to the darker days of the Third Reich, Kristallnacht, and World War Two, and everything that came with those years in Europe, and within the tumultuous 1930s and 1940s, and the inevitability of war, and the question of what Rowland will do – the choices he will eventually have to make.
I started reading the Rowland Sinclair series with book two, when the New South Wales Writer’s Centre sent me a copy to review. Since then, I have read and reviewed every book in the series. It is one pf my favourites – trouble seems to find Rowly all the time whether he goes looking for it or not. A reluctant player in political circles and at times, crime solving – though with the latter, his gentlemanly sense of justice and finding out the truth often wins out – Rowly certainly has managed over nine books to endear himself to readers and fans, has been injured many times across the series in his quest to uncover the truth and solve crimes that he more often than not stumbles into, such as finding a body in his suite, and has frequently frustrated his older brother, Wilfred. In this ninth outing, Wilfred is not physically present throughout much of the book, less so than in others, yet the sense that he is watching somehow is still felt. The Rowland Sinclair series is a charming, historical crime fiction series, peppered with historical figures in each book that are relevant to the plot and the political happenings at the time – events that have an uncertainty about them, and confirm Rowly’s suspicion of politics and his genuine desire to simply help people – though he draws the line at Nazis.
The Rowland Sinclair mysteries are a wonderfully unique and Australian series that incorporates diversity throughout in the characters that Rowland and his friends encounter, and that infuses Australian and world history into a story where a crime takes place, and that makes it accessible and understandable to readers who may not have encountered some of these events in history – and delves into them in a way that is interesting and informative. Most people will be familiar with the 1930s events in Europe and Australia but might not be familiar with China of the 1930s – this novel will introduce them to it.
The compelling and colourful narrative that Sulari creates in All the Tears in China and indeed across the whole series is engaging and delightful. It’s a series that I never tire of reading and talking about, and that is also exciting and engaging. Nine books in, and we are only just in 1935 – but we are inching closer to the events that lead to World War Two, and the eventual war that will divide the world and lead to millions of deaths in concentration camps and on the battlefield. Another great book in a spectacular series that has a very wide fanbase who eagerly await the new book each year.