Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill

rowly-5

Author: Sulari Gentill

Publisher: Pantera Press

Genre: Crime, Historical Fiction

Release Date: November 1st, 2013

Book Synopsis: After narrowly escaping Nazi terror, Rowland Sinclair and his companions land in London, believing they are safe.

But they are wrong.

A bizarre murder plunges the hapless Australians into a queer world of British aristocracy, Fascist Blackshirts, illicit love, scandal and spies.

A world where gentlemen are not always what they are dressed up to be.

~*~

I was delighted to be able to leap headfirst into another adventure with Rowland. Edna, Clyde and Milt in London, along with his brother, Wilfred, sister-in-law, Kate and nephews, Ewan and Ernest. Staying at Claridge’s after escaping Fascist Germany, Rowly and his friends are soon privy to the murder of a fellow guest, Lord Pierrepont is murdered, and found in stockings and a women’s nightie – in rather scandalous circumstances that lead to people related to him and the police trying to cover things up. Sulari does a fabulous job of revealing clues to the reader just as the characters find them. The journey to Madame Tussaud’s in London is seemingly innocent enough – Rowly and his friends are in the company of his nephew, Ernest. But the discovery here of a wax head of Pierrepont, and the sculptor hoisting it off onto them to deliver it to Euphemia Thistlethwaite leads the reader into a series of humour-filled interactions with the head in a hat box, and then resting on a desk in the suite Rowland and his friends are staying in.

My favourite line in relation to the head came towards the end of the novel, after a second failed attempt to return it to Lord Harcourt and the family: “Rowland nodded. He had been preoccupied and now he’d lost Pierrepont’s head.” It had the feeling or something morbid yet as the head was wax, quite amusing. The aftermath of Rowly losing the head is equally enjoyable to read and experience, in particular, Wilfred’s reaction to the whole situation of why they had a wax head of a dead man in their rooms.

Though Wilfred throughout the novels is disapproving of Rowly’s friends and maybe a little hard on him, he does not just let anyone get away with trying to harm his family. I found this coming through much more since Paving the New Road, following Rowly’s encounters with the Nazi Stormtroopers. The continuity and growth that readers get to experience with this relationship makes the novels well worth the read.

Sulari has again seamlessly and delightfully incorporated real-world figures such as Winston Churchill, H.G. Wells and Stanley Melbourne Bruce into the narrative, as figures for Rowland and his comrades to interact with. For me as a reader, this brings even more authenticity to the world she is creating and meandering in. I hope we get to see more of their reactions to what is going on in Germany and the outcomes of this.

The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries are one of my favourite crime series, because they also incorporate real world history and figures. It feels genuine because of these characteristics, and I am looking forward to seeing what is in store for Rowly in the future.

Five Years of Rowland Sinclair

rowly-1Five 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
rowly-21930s 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, rowly-3Communism 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 rowly-4five, 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 arowly-5 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.