MILES OFF COURSE is the third book in a series set in 1930’s Australia featuring Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair, painter and reluctant amateur sleuth. Rowly is the youngest son of a wealthy pastoralist family which allows him to fund a reasonably lavish lifestyle for himself and his less well-off friends Edna (a sculptress), Milt (a poet and Communist) and Clyde (a painter like Rowly but of landscapes rather than the portraits Rowly prefers). Rowly is once again in danger as he is the subject of an unsuccessful kidnap attempt in Sydney before his brother Wilfred asks him to head into the NSW high country to look for their head stockman Harry Simpson who, it has been reported, has walked off the job. But the Sinclair brothers have known Harry since they were young boys and neither believes he would just walk away, even though everyone repeats it’s what ‘they’ (Aboriginal people) do.
What’s not to like about this delightful book? The historical setting offers the perfect mixture of interesting details of day-to-day life and real life people in minor roles for an added air of authenticity. For example a very famous name from Australian literature makes a pseudonymous appearance which is just credible enough to make you wonder if it’s based on fact and at least one real political figure and an artist make cameo appearances too. These tantalising titbits are scattered throughout a tale that sees Rowly and his friends in all manner of scenarios from a fancy society party to some rough and ready bush camping as they try to discover what happened to the Sinclair’s stockman. The mystery is satisfyingly complex, offering a new twist whenever the solution seems clear cut, and the ultimate resolution came as a surprise to me.
I don’t know how many people of Rowly’s class would really have mixed as comfortably with people from all walks of life as he does, but Gentill has developed him into a very believable and sympathetic character. He’s a good friend and dutiful family member even when he and his brother are at odds. In fact the relationship between the two brothers is a highlight of the novel as it mixes an innate brotherly love with a disconnect between two people who have vastly different goals in life. The clashes between them are credible and add some nice character depth to the novel. There’s no doubt that Rowly’s ability to operate at all levels of society helps add variety to the stories and scope to the tales of adventure but it never feels as forced or unrealistic as it might if these events were taking place in a country less blasé about issues of class.
The four friends provide an interesting twist to the standard character sets of crime fiction and it’s terrific to see good old-fashioned friendship being depicted in fiction for adults. In MILES OFF COURSE the character of Clyde plays a larger role than in past novels as the gang head into the part of the country where he grew up and where everyone knows him. The scene where they visit Clyde’s family home, a working-class place which is a far cry from the wealthy surroundings that Rowly is used to, had an authentic feel with Clyde’s mum being slightly awkward in the presence of Rowly but still well in charge of her domain.
Reading this book reminded me of the family movies that used to air on the Sunday nights of my childhood when the whole household would sit down to watch because they offered something for everyone to enjoy. In MILES OFF COURSE there’s a bit of politics, a bit of romance, a whodunit and some narrowly escaped near-death experiences for the hero and his friends. Along the way there are plenty of laughs, some nuggets of historical information that will make you look smart when you drop them into conversation at your next dinner party and there’s even a lovable dog. It is an intelligent, amusing, happiness-inducing book that sits proudly at the lighter end of the crime fiction spectrum. Highly recommended.
MILES OFF COURSE is released officially tomorrow (30 January) in Australia and should be available from your local independent bookstore or you could try online stores Booktopia or Boomerang. I have not seen the book in electronic format though the earlier two volumes are available for kindle so this one may be eventually too.
If you’d like to win a copy of this excellent book why not enter our giveaway?
We also subjected Sulari to our baker’s dozen questions during Australian authors month last year.
I’m counting this as my second contribution towards the Australian Women Writers reading challenge for this year.
My rating: 4.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website: http://www.sularigentill.com/
Publisher: Pantera Press 
Length: 352 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: provided by the publisher for review
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.