I read for lots of reasons. For fun. To learn. To pass the time. To avoid chores. Because it makes me feel…however intangibly and inexplicably…better. Few books manage to let me tick all those boxes at once but Sulari Gentill’s gently humorous historical adventures featuring Rowly Sinclair and his pals have, for me, come to epitomize what makes reading the very best pastime a girl can have.
The fifth installment of the series, GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED follows on immediately from the events depicted in PAVING THE NEW ROAD. Our heroes have escaped early 1930’s Germany with bodies and souls (mostly) intact and are in London. Rowland Sinclair, youngest son of a wealthy Australian family, is keen to ensure that what he and his friends learned about the activities of the Nazis in Germany is relayed to people in power but, even with the connections offered by his politically active older brother, struggles to find anyone who will listen to his dire warnings. Before he can make much headway with his mission Rowly and his staunch friends, Edna, Clyde and Milton, are soon embroiled in investigating a bizarre murder that has even the English aristocracy, no strangers to bizarre goings-on, raising a collective eyebrow.
I’m not sure I can explain exactly what it is that sets this series apart for me but I’ll make an attempt.
I adore the almost immediate sense of being transported to the time and place of Gentill’s creation where her historical research is skilfully entwined with elements from her imagination. Was Evelyn Waugh really the pompous pratt portrayed here? Was there such a blatant attempt to make it seem as though Wallis Simpson’s affair with English nobility wasn’t with a Royal? Was the 1933 London Economic Conference really such a balls-up? Was there ever a point at which Hitler might have been stopped before he wrought his tragedy upon the world? Without ever straying into a lecturing tone the book guarantees the reader will feel smarter by the end, even if you don’t have a list of topics to
I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I am more than a little in love with Rowly and his three friends (in a purely platonic way of course). Yes they are extraordinarily lucky in a way that only people in fiction can truly be. But they do all know it and they share their good fortune willingly and with joy. They love life, and each other and they never miss an opportunity to help someone less fortunate than themselves, regardless of any risk to their personal safety and without passing judgement of any kind on their fellow humans. I know that grit and gangsters are all the rage in crime fiction these days, but I cannot help but long for a bit more good, old-fashioned courage and decency in both my real and fictional worlds.
There is also a romping story, fantastic dialogue, a tantalizing dose of unresolved sexual tension and a mildly absurd humour to this book. How can one not delight in the imagery of four well-dressed young people carrying around and talking to the wax head of an English Lord for half a book? Or attacking fascists being beaten away with the limbs from tailors’ mannequins?
GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED is officially released in Australia on Friday (1 November) so if your local bookstore doesn’t have a copy you should demand they order it. Immediately.
I’ve reviewed all four of this novel’s predecessors here at Fair Dinkum Crime
This is the 18th book I’ve read by an Australian woman writer this year (It’s still not too late to join the Australian Women Writers Challenge)
Publisher: Pantera Press 
Length: 361 pages
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