A double dip into historical crime fiction by Aussie women

My reading mojo took a holiday in November (because this) but the books which got me back in the saddle were the latest instalments of two of my favourite series by Australian women crime writers. The present-day world, even in fictional form, proved too darned depressing lately but visiting these bygone eras evocatively brought to life was just what I needed.

adonationofmurderyoungThe 5th instalment of Felicity Young’s series set in that awkward period that isn’t quite within the Edwardian era but is before the start of WWI is A DONATION OF MURDER. Perhaps not surprisingly given that it’s 1914 and talk of war is everywhere, the book is a little darker than its predecessors. But just as good.

Here Dr Dorothy ‘Dody’ McCleland is performing a routine autopsy when her subject wakes up! Dody feels somehow responsible for the woman’s plight and takes her home for the night after she reveals that escaping a man was what led her to be picked up as a frozen dead body from the street. But, naturally enough, things are not what they seem Dody is exposed to a seamier side of London life than she’s used to. While all this is going on Dody’s lover, Chief Inspector Matthew Pike, is wrapped up in a case involving brutal burglaries and also has to worry about betrayal from within his own force.

I love the way the two lead characters of this series are developing both individually and as a couple (they are a couple even if they have to hide their relationship from many people). They are both realising that compromises have to be made if they are to be together more formally and the way they both approach this notion is well drawn as they display the conflicting feelings that compromise brings with it.

As is always the case with this series readers are introduced to an aspect of life in the era which is fascinating and troubling all at once. Here we see the operation of a criminal gang and the lack of value gang leaders place on the lives of those that work for them.

And, of course, it’s a ripper of a yarn.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

givethedevilhisdueaudioBy rights I should have discussed the 7th instalment of Sulari Gentill’s wonderful series set in 1930’s Australia when I read the print version last year. But as I didn’t do so at the time I feel it’s not breaking the rules to discuss GIVE THE DEVIL HIS DUE now that I’ve listened to an audio version narrated wonderfully by transplanted English actor Rupert Degas (note to publishers…you’ve done the first and last instalments as audiobooks, can I have the other five books in the series now please?)

The series hero, Rowland Sinclair, is to drive his much-loved S-Class Mercedes in a celebrity race for charity at Sydney’s Maroubra speedway (known in the book and in real life as a “killer track”) but he’s barely driven a practice lap before a journalist who interviewed him about the race is found murdered. One of Rowland’s best friends and housemates comes under suspicion of the murder so the whole gang must once again put their sleuthing skills into action.

There really is nothing I don’t love about this series – the characters, the cameos by real people from history, the humour – but I was particularly struck this time by how much history can teach us (should we choose to learn). One of the recurring themes it explores is the rise of fascism in the 1930’s and what steps can be taken by those who are fearful of it to get others to see what is so troubling. Here Rowly elects to put on an exhibition of paintings inspired by his trip to Germany and the brutality he saw and experienced there (detailed in PAVING THE NEW ROAD). This puts him at odds with his brother and many people in the community who just can’t see that things are as bad as Rowly and his friends know them to be. This element of the novel feels eerily (and sadly) relevant to what’s going on in the world today.

Rowly has a pretty rough time of it in this instalment – both physically and emotionally. There’s a truly poignant passage in which he discovers that one of his artistic heroes is anti semitic and this really puts poor Rowly in a spin but I love the way Gentill depicts this and shows his friends helping him to deal with it.

And, of course, it too is a ripper yarn.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

What both these books and the series they represent have in common is that they are terrific examples of the historical crime genre. They offer interesting insights into their respective eras, compelling storylines, really well drawn characters who have foibles alongside their nicer traits and a view of the world that is hopeful without ignoring life’s harsher realities. Read ’em both, you won’t regret it.


AWW2016I’m counting these as book 18.5 and 19.5 that I’ve read and reviewed for the fifth Australian Women Writers Challenge (one book was written by a father daughter team so I’m only counting it as a half). For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.

A Rowland Sinclair teaser

On Friday an email I received made me grin like an idiot. This was a little embarrassing as I was in a  work meeting and surreptitiously checking my personal emails on my phone. No one in the meeting could have assumed the meeting was making me smile (it was a very dull, bureaucratic meeting of the kind that public servants everywhere get dragged into far too regularly) and no one could have missed the smile either. So now they all know I wasn’t paying attention. But I don’t care because the email alerted me to the existence of a new Rowland Sinclair story from Sulari Gentill. Woot. Squee. And other inappropriate terms for a non teenager to express.

theprodigalsongentillIt wasn’t the latest novel in the series which I have been eagerly anticipating since closing the cover on the previous one but I’ll take what I can get. In this instance it’s a novella which acts as a prequel to the current series. And it’s available now. For free. For everyone. Even you. As well as the story it contains some of Sulari Gentill’s paintings inspired by the story and setting. It’s called THE PRODIGAL SON and it takes place in 1928, about three years before A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN which is the first novel of the series. You can go download it now.

afewrightthinkingmenaudioAlas I have already downloaded and devoured the 104 page novella – which depicts among other things how Rowland gets together with his trusted friends Edna, Milton and Clyde and involved a rather heart-stopping kidnapping – and will now have to wait until September next year for new news of Rowly and his friends. Sigh. This made me a bit sad so I did what any good fan would do, bought the first book in a different format to read again (and it’s fair enough as someone to whom I have loaned my hard copy of this book never gave it back). The publicity material for the novella alerted me to the fact that A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN is now available as an audio book narrated by Rupert Degas, an English voice over artist who currently lives here in Australia. I started listening while doing some gardening last night and it’s delightful.

If you have for some inexplicable reason not yet embarked upon this series now is the perfect time to start. You can sample what is to come via the free novella and then will have seven wonderful novels ready and waiting for you. The series features Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair, an artist from a wealthy family, his three staunch friends and Rowly’s extended, and sometimes exasperated family. Although on one level the books are at the lighter end of the spectrum and are often dead funny they do explore some difficult social themes, not least of which is the era’s growth of right-wing fanaticism which feels particularly pertinent in these troubled times. I love highlighting this series as an example of crime fiction that tackles hard subjects without resorting to extreme violence and endless despair. If you need to hear a bit more about the books before diving in check out the review links below or read an essay about the series that appeared at Newton Review of Books earlier this year

gentillseries

 

Review: PAVING THE NEW ROAD, Sulari Gentil

  • review copy supplied by publisher PanteraPress
  • published in 2012
  • ISBN 978-1-921997-07-5
  • Book 4 in the Rowland Sinclair Mystery series
  • 403 pages
  • Kindle version available from Amazon

Synopsis (PanteraPress)

It’s 1933, and the political landscape of Europe is darkening.

Eric Campbell, the man who would be Australia’s Führer, is on a
fascist tour of the Continent, meeting dictators over cocktails and
seeking allegiances in a common cause.  Yet the Australian way of life
is not undefended.  Old enemies have united to undermine Campbell’s
ambitions.  The clandestine armies of the Establishment have once again
mobilised to thwart any friendship with the Third Reich.

But when their man in Munich is killed, desperate measures are necessary.

Now Rowland Sinclair must travel to Germany to defend Australian
democracy from the relentless march of Fascism. Amidst the goosestepping
euphoria of a rising Nazi movement, Rowland encounters those who will
change the course of history. In a world of spies, murderers and
despotic madmen, he can trust no-one but an artist, a poet and a brazen
sculptress.

Plots thicken, loyalties are tested and bedfellows become strange indeed.

My Take

This title has sat in my TBR shelves for far too long. In it the author cleverly reminds of what is happening in the world in 1933: Germany rapidly heading into fascism; that there are those who would like to see Australia heading the same way. When Rowland Sinclair agrees to go to Germany instead of his brother Wilfred, Rowland’s bohemian friends decide to accompany him. And how else to get there quickly other than in Kingsford-Smith’s Southern Cross?

I loved the way some now famous names came to life in this story including Kingsford-Smith, Eva Braun, Hermann Goering and Nancy Wake, just to name a few.

Although the action of the story really is improbable, it makes a captivating tale, and excellent reading.

My rating: 4.7

I’ve also reviewed
5.0, A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN
4.8, A DECLINE IN PROPHETS
4.8, MILES OFF COURSE

A blessing of awards for Australian crime fiction

In the interests of full disclosure I should admit that the collective noun ‘blessing’ apparently applies to unicorns but since I’m not convinced fictional creatures should get a noun all of their own I thought I’d borrow it for my purpose. Due to life…and death…getting in the way I have been remiss in discussing all the recent awards that have come the way of Australian crime writers lately but I’m hoping the old adage “better late than never” still applies to most of life’s awkwardnesses.

LifeOrDeathRobothamAudioIn reverse order, timeline wise, we’ll start with congratulating Michael Robotham whose LIFE OR DEATH won the prestigious British Crime Writer’s Association Gold Dagger Award this week. It’s a standalone novel that starts with the premise of a young man escaping from a Texas prison on the day before he is due to be released. Driven equally by in-depth character development and a heart-stopping plot it’s easy to see why the judges were taken with this novel, even with its impressive competition. Kerrie reviewed the novel here at Fair Dinkum Crime (and though I didn’t review the novel I concur with her sentiments and can also recommend the audio version of the book beautifully narrated by John Chancer). An article in Today’s Sydney Morning Herald provides some background information on the novel and Michael’s history as a writer, including a heartfelt admission on the downside of being a ghost writer.

BigLittleLiesMoriartyNext we move to the 2015 Davitt awards for crime writing by Australian women which were announced on August 29. Best Adult Crime Novel went to Liane Moriarty for the surprise crime novel BIG LITTLE LIES. As this book is set to be a film starring ‘our’ Nicole I suspect this is not the last we’ve heard of this particular title. Other winners on the night included Ellie Marney for Best Young Adult Novel with EVERY WORD and Caroline Overington for LAST WOMAN HANGED which took out the Best Non-Fiction category. The Reader’s Choice Award (voted by members of Sisters in Crime) went to Sandi Wallace’s TELL ME WHY. And because she is one of my favourite authors ever I can’t let this occasion pass without noting the Highly Commended certificate judges gave to Sulari Gentill’s A MURDER UNMENTIONED in the Best Adult Novel category.

EdenCandiceFoxFinally we must mention this year’s Ned Kelly Awards, winners of which were announced earlier in August. Candice Fox’s second novel EDEN took out the Best Crime Novel Award while Helen Garner’s THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF won in the Best True Crime category and QUOTA by Jock Serong was voted Best First Crime novel. We’ve been a bit remiss here at FDC in not reviewing any of these but at least two of these are buried in my mountain of unread books so I will get to them. One day.

I think that’s it for all the missed news, our belated congratulations to all.

 

 

Review: A MURDER UNMENTIONED by Sulari Gentill

AMurderUnmentionedGentillThe problem with having read, loved and reviewed the five previous instalments of Sulari Gentill’s wonderful series of crime novels set in 1930’s Australia (and beyond) is that I am running out of superlatives with which to gush like a schoolgirl intelligently describe this enchanting series. Happily for us all Ms Gentill does not share my lack of creativity.

Most of the action in this sixth novel takes place at the Sinclair family’s rural estate Oaklea where ambitious landscaping plans lead to the discovery of the gun used in the killing of Rowland and Wilfred Sinclair’s father over a decade earlier. At the time the death was assumed by the authorities to have occurred during the commission of a burglary but when they receive some insider information on top of the gun’s discovery, police start looking closer to home for possible culprits of the unsolved crime.

Fans of the series will be pleased that all their favourite characters are back and in top form. Rowly’s three friends, who have been with him through all his adventures once again combine their talents to help Rowly and his family in a myriad of ways, though I think it’s Milt the plagiarising poet who goes above and beyond the call of duty on this occasion. One of the particular strengths of this novel is its depiction of the complex relationship between Rowly and Wil. The brothers have struggled to see eye to eye due to their different approaches to life, but when both come under suspicion at different points each does his utmost to protect the other. This unwavering loyalty and they way they learn to see how the other has experienced life differently even though they are part of the same family strikes a very realistic chord. It is rare that adult sibling relationships are depicted so completely.

Although A MURDER UNMENTIONED is, overall,  a light-hearted novel it is not without troubling themes. We learn a sad secret from the Sinclair family’s closet in a demonstration that even families which appear to ‘have it all’ often hide terrible traumas. And Rowly is still struggling to get people in authority to accept how dangerous the Nazis in Germany are; something he knows first hand due to the experiences depicted in PAVING THE NEW ROAD (the fourth book of this series).

In short then there is nothing not to like about A MURDER UNMENTIONED. There’s family drama, unrequited love, a suspenseful mystery, a blazing fire which must be escaped and the ever-popular cameo appearances from some of our history’s famous faces (including a yet-to-be prime minister and one of our pioneering landscape gardeners). This is all wrapped up in a thoughtful, intelligent and amusing story that rips along at a cracking pace. Released here this month A MURDER UNMENTIONED is highly recommended reading.


In order the earlier novels in this series are A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN, A DECLINE IN PROPHETS, MILES OFF COURSE, PAVING THE NEW ROAD and GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED


Publisher: Pantera Press [2014]
ISBN/ASIN: 9781921997433
Length: 375 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED by Sulari Gentill

GentlemenFormerlyDressedGentillI 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 google research as I did.

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?

Google research attributes to Aristotle the quote that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED is just a little bit more wonderful than all its excellent elements would lead you to believe it might be. Like its central hero it is audaciously optimistic, unashamedly well-intentioned and superb fun. Read it. You’ll feel better.


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

awwbadge_2013This 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 [2013]
ISBN: 9781921997303
Length: 361 pages
Format: paperback
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Review: MILES OFF COURSE, Sulari Gentill

  • Published Pantera Press 2012
  • ISBN 978-0-9870685-2-1
  • Book 3 in the Rowland Sinclair series
  • 352 pages
  • source: my local library

Synopsis (Pantera Press)

In early 1933, Rowland Sinclair and his companions are ensconced in
the superlative luxury of The Hydro Majestic – Medlow Bath, where
trouble seems distant indeed.

And then Harry Simpson vanishes.

Croquet and pre-dinner cocktails are abandoned for the High Country
where Rowland hunts for Simpson with a determination that is as
mysterious as the disappearance itself. Stockmen, gangsters and a
belligerent writer all gather to the fray, as the investigation becomes
embroiled with a much darker conspiracy.

Murder, Treason, Trespass, Kidnapping, Betrayal… Again, Rowland Sinclair finds himself in the middle of it all.

My Take

MILES OFF COURSE, set in New South Wales in 1933, follows a similar pattern to the earlier books in this series. Rowly is asked by his older brother Wilf to go to the high country, where Sinclairs have cattle runs, to investigate the disappearance of an aboriginal head man Harry Simpson.

Newspaper extracts of the time keep up a running commentary about contemporary events and politics. At the same time it seems that someone may be targetting Rowly himself amid a wave of suspected abductions in Sydney.

The novel is an interesting exploration not only of New South Wales politics but also of current attitudes to women and aborigines. The landed gentry like Rowly’s brother Wilf are still very apprehensive about the rise of Communism and overseas Hitler is gaining strength in Germany. Wilf himself moves in social circles who focus on a way of life that has been lost.

Amid this historical detail Sulari Gentill weaves a mystery and gives us more of the background of the Sinclair family.

Most enjoyable reading. The setting feels authentic and the mystery is engaging.

My rating: 4.8

Other reviews:

I’ve already reviewed

5.0, A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN

4.8, A DECLINE IN PROPHETS

Looking forward to reading the next (already published) PAVING THE NEW ROAD, also set in 1933.

Author’s website.

Review: A DECLINE IN PROPHETS, Sulari Gentill

  • published by Pantera Press 2011
  • ISBN 978-0-9807418-9-6
  • 354 pages
  • Source: review copy from the publisher
  • #2 in the Rowland Sinclair series
  • Winner of Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Fiction 2012

Synopsis (from the publisher)

In 1932, the RMS Aquitania embodies all that is gracious and refined, in a world gripped by crisis and doubt.

Returning home on the luxury liner after months abroad, Rowland
Sinclair and his companions dine with a suffragette, a Bishop and a
retired World Prophet. The Church encounters less orthodox religion in
the Aquitania’s chandeliered ballroom, where men of God rub shoulders with mystics in dinner suits.

The elegant atmosphere on board is charged with tension, but civility
prevails… until people start to die. Then things get a bit awkward.

And Rowland finds himself unwittingly in the centre of it all.

“I’m afraid, Sinclair has a habit of being in the wrong place
every possible time. I would think twice about standing next to him.”

“God forbid, Rowland, you should return home without some sort of scandal… leading some kind of insane cult!”

My Take

In this sequel to A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN Rowly and his entourage have been to Europe and are returning aboard a luxury liner. When the first murder occurs it is not clear what the reason behind it is. It seems that the real target may be the Theosophist leader Annie Besant but then the attacks continue and one victim is a seemingly innocent girl.

Rowly returns home, the central figure of newspaper headlines much to his elder brother’s disgust. Wilfred has been hoping the world trip will have settled his brother down. Rowly himself would like nothing better than to be able to return to the quiet life in Sydney and to take up painting again, but Wilfred’s son is being christened and Wilfred is determined that Rowly will also take up some familial obligations. Things get nasty when the murderer from the RMS Aquitania makes another appearance.

Once again Sulari Gentill has put together an interesting mix of fact and fiction: ‘real’ people like Annie Besant, Charles Leadbetter and Norman Lindsay; and fictional creations. The mixture of fact and fiction even extends to the luxury liner she uses as her setting for the first half of the novel.  The Aquitania was the longest serving Cunard liner built in the 20th century and survived service in both World Wars. Although I could vaguely remember reading about Annie Besant, I knew next to nothing about Theosophy and went scurrying off to do some research.

The main characters from the first novel in the series, Rowly’s bohemian friends, are all there, and provide a good reason for reading these books in order.

A very satisfying read, good Australian flavour.

My rating: 4.8

Websites and other things to check:

The 2012 Davitt Award Winners Are…

The Davitt Awards are sponsored by Sisters in Crime Australia and are named in honour of Ellen Davitt (1812-1879) who wrote Australia’s first mystery novel, FORCE AND FRAUD in 1865. Awards are given annually to crime writing by women in several categories:

This year’s winners were announced at a gala dinner tonight (1 September) in Melbourne,

The first award of the night was for Best True Crime and it went to journalist and author Liz Porter for COLD CASE FILES in which old cases from Australia, the UK and the US are re-opened in the light of new forensic techniques.

Next came the award for Best Young Fiction book which was apparently fiercely contested. Ursula Dubosarsky’s THE GOLDEN DAY was highly commended by the judges but the winner of this category was Meg McKinlay for SURFACE TENSION

The next award was for Best Adult Novel. Carolyn Morwood’s DEATH AND THE SPANISH LADY was highly commended by judges but the award went to Sulari Gentill for A DECLINE IN PROPHETS. As this particular book was also on my list of five most impressive Australian crime novels for last year I can heartily concur with the judges’ decision on this occasion. It is historical crime fiction set in 1930’s Australia (and beyond) and it is a delight to read, combining thoughtfully drawn characters, a wonderful sense of time and place and a ripper of a story.

The new category for this year of Best Debut Novel went to Jaye Ford for her novel BEYOND FEAR. Ford is yet another journalist-turned-crime-writer and penned a book with loads of strong female characters and snappy pace which I liked a lot.

The final award of the night was the Reader’s Choice Award. All the books in all the other categories are eligible for this award and all members of Sisters in Crime Australia are able to vote for it (and apparently 550 of us did). This year the award was shared by Jaye Ford’s BEYOND FEAR and Y.A. Erskine’s THE BROTHERHOOD!. Both great books and THE BROTHERHOOD was another of my five most impressive Aussie crime novels of last year.

Congratulations to all the winners and thanks to all the writers of all the eligible books. Even from my limited reading of the books in these categories I can attest to the fact that Australian women’s crime writing is in great form.

Information in this post was provided by Vim & Zest Communications and the ever-helpful twitterverse, especially @angsavage to whom I offer a particular thanks for the vicarious thrills provided via #davittawards

Review: PAVING THE NEW ROAD by Sulari Gentill

It is 1933 and Australian politician Eric Campbell is touring Europe with the aim of making alliances with prominent fascists. He is especially keen to meet with Adolf Hitler. Campbell’s opponents in Australia dispatched a man to Germany to thwart Campbell’s plans but that man has died and, rather desperately, they turn to playboy Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair to take over the subversive campaign. Sinclair has tangled with Campbell in the past, in an adventure depicted in the first book of this series, A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN, and needs little persuading to take on the dangerous role of spy. It will not be a surprise to fans of the series that Rowly’s friends, fellow artists Edna and Clyde and poet Milton, decide to accompany him. In addition to trying to prevent Campbell from meeting Hitler or otherwise succeeding in strengthening his links to European fascism the group from Sydney feel compelled to look into the death of the man who preceded Rowly as the one with responsibility for foiling Campbell’s plans.

I imagine any author would be wary of setting a tale that is light in tone against the backdrop of one of the darkest times in world history but Gentill has met the challenge with great success. There is the usual fun, decadence and near-death adventures that readers of the series  have come to expect, starting with quick (only 14 days!) flight to Europe thanks to Australian aviation hero Charles Kingsford Smith but the tough issues are not ignored. The increasingly extreme behaviour of the Nazis is depicted sensitively and with intelligence, while taking the opportunity to remind readers that there were real heroes who stood up to the Nazis in amazing ways. Some of these are the creation of Gentill’s imagination and some, like journalist Nancy Wake (who became a British Agent during WWII) are real-life characters making cameo appearances in Gentill’s fictional world.

it is this ability to combine real and imaginary people seamlessly and credibly into her stories that make Gentill’s books stand out from the pack for me and I think PAVING THE NEW ROAD might be the most successful of the series in this regard. From the seemingly minor (but completely engaging) presence of designer Hugo Boss, competing with another tailor who befriends Rowly and the gang for contracts to make the various Nazi uniforms, to the more substantial roles played by Wake and the girlfriend of a prominent Nazi Party member the real figures help make the story a very believable one. One of the things I love about Sulari Gentill’s writing is that she never takes the easy route and so rather than stuffing the book with bad guys we’ve all met before she chose to include some truly startling lesser known figures. The inclusion, for example, of the British woman who stalked Adolf Hitler in the belief they were destined to be together, was inspired.

The mystery here becomes a relatively minor part of the plot which might offend the die-hard crime fiction fans but there is so much else going on I think only really churlish readers would complain. There’s one of the world’s first long-haul passenger flights, a book-burning at which Rowly and the gang put their lives in real danger, several encounters with sinister members of the Nazi Party and the book-long attempt to prevent Eric Campbell (another real life figure) from successfully brining extreme fascism home to Australia. As always there are light moments too, such as the purchasing of a series of expensive experimental art works which are sent home to the ultra-conservative funders of the spying mission (Rowly and company pose as art dealers to explain their presence in Germany) and some grand parties for the group to attend. And in the end the mystery that started the book is resolved with a clever surprise.

I’m not normally a big fan of blurbs which combine two random authors to describe what a book’s content might be like but the ‘Evelyn Waugh meets Agatha Christie‘ tag adorning this book’s front cover is pretty accurate, at least giving readers a sense of the kinds of characters and storyline they might encounter within the pages. PAVING THE NEW ROAD is a superb example of the historical crime genre, with wonderful characters, a truly suspenseful story and an enveloping sense of time and place. It is highly recommended.


PAVING THE NEW ROAD is released officially tomorrow (1 August) in Australia and should be available from your local independent bookstore. It is also available in eBook format from Amazon and the iBook store (though I suspect that this availability does not extend to non-Australian readers)

I’ve reviewed the three earlier books in this series A FEW RIGHT THINKING MENA DECLINE IN PROPHETS and MILES OFF COURSE.

We also subjected Sulari to our baker’s dozen questions during Australian authors month last year.

This is the ninth book I have read for the Australian Women Writers reading challenge.


My rating: 4.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website: http://www.sularigentill.com/
Publisher: Pantera Press [2012]
ISBN: 9781921997075
Length: 405 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: provided by the publisher for review
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.