Five years ago, on the first of June, Rowland Sinclair and his artist compatriots were released from the grey cells and imagination of Sulari Gentill into the literary world, with the help of the fantastic team at Pantera Press. A 1930s gentleman of means, living in a family estate in Woollahra, with his friends Elias Isaacs, known as Milt, a Communist and a Jew and a poet, Clyde Watson Jones, a country boy and painter, and Edna Higgins, the sculptress. My personal journey began with book two, and going back to read them in order has brought a new light to the series. At the time of writing this post, I am up to book five, Gentlemen Formally Dressed, taking place fairly soon after Paving the New Road, and continuing with the themes that have been trickling throughout the books, moving through political dissent in Australia towards that in Germany and what is to come.
The reader has an upper hand though, in knowing the history of the period, if they do, or at least knowing the major events that follow in the decades after The First World War that our fine Rowly finds himself caught up in, often by accidental association or by being in the wrong place, at the wrong, or perhaps sometimes, the right time. Rowland’s journeys are plagued by murder and intrigue, false accusations and colourful characters – both fictional and historical, who bring a colour to the stories and situate them firmly in the
1930s and the turmoil of the period.
Rowland is introduced in A Few Right Thinking Men, set against the backdrop of the conflict of the Old Guard and the New Guard, leading to Francis De Groot stealing the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge from Premier Lang. Culminating in Rowly and his friends needing to escape, they take a tour of the Continent, their return journey recounted in A Decline in Prophets, where several bodies drop to cover up the crimes of a church leader. Book Three, Miles Off Course, has the backdrop of Old and New Guard, Communism and the Depression against Rowland’s brother insisting he search their sheep farming property for the head station hand, leading to a conspiracy of sheep theft. It is with Paving the New Road that the series heads to Nazi Germany, and Rowland is exposed to the dangers of the politics of Fascism and what it could have meant for Australia, had Eric Campbell been successful in transplanting the ideas of Hitler to our shores. Rowland’s dangerous and near-death encounters lead into book five, Gentlemen Formerly Dressed, and what I see as a shift in Rowly and Wilfred’s relationship – Wilfred seems to come to a better understanding of his brother. I am looking forward to see what books six, A Murder Unmentioned, and book seven bring to the series after I finish Gentlemen Formerly Dressed.
Within each book, Sulari has created a world that is immersive, and delivers the history of the period in an accessible way, in a fun way, in comparison to some history books or school textbooks. They are one of my favourite series of historical fiction novels, mingled with crime, intrigue and Rowly’s affection for Edna, which, so far, has not been reciprocated. It is the combination of the characters and plots that pull the reader headfirst into the series, and I hope, makes them never want to end their
association with Rowland.