Australians seem to be fascinated at the moment with murder mysteries set in Australia’s past: just witness the popularity of such Australian Broadcasting Commission television shows as The Doctor Blake Mysteries (Ballarat in the 1950s) and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Melbourne in the 1920s) based on the Phryne Fisher series of books by Kerry Greenwood.
There is now a fairly recent newcomer in the literary field, although A Murder Unmentioned is the sixth, stand-alone book in a series.
Sulari Gentill’s reoccurring character, Rowland Sinclair, is the son of a rich farming family, turned artist. Set at the end of 1933 and the beginning of 1934, this new novel reveals how Rowland’s father was killed thirteen years before on the family’s Yass property, supposedly by an unknown thief. However, while a dam on the farm is being drained, the murder weapon is unearthed, reopening the investigation and dredging up some long buried family secrets.
Gentill’s book is much more than a very readable murder mystery – it is also a highly entertaining social commentary with well researched historical detail.
With Sinclair’s companions being artists, poets and sculptors, the reader is introduced not only to Australian country life at the time, but also to its Bohemian culture and allows for such subjects as Communism, the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany and its factions here in Australia, and even the torrential downpour flooding of the Yass area in February 1934. Gentill also manages to cleverly input Australian celebrities of the time into the storyline such as aviatrix Nancy Bird, Charles Kingsford Smith, and a young and upcoming Robert Menzies (who may or may not have some connection with the mystery).
Social mores of the time are also nicely explored; such things as gentlemen wearing hats outside and making sure that they are never in shirtsleeves or without a tie (never loosened, of course) give a nice touch of gentle humour to the novel.
Gentill peoples her story with well-drawn characters: Rowland and his brother are wondrously different in status and attitude; the women beautifully gentle, yet some of them with a strength to be admired; and the very poignant mother character who refuses to believe that one of her sons was killed in the Great War.
Newspaper articles from the period used as chapter headings add to the reader’s fun and the overall feel of mystery by having us spot their relevance to the chapter they are introducing.
A Murder Unmentioned is worthy of a great deal of mention. It is an easy and interesting read that does not rely on one having read the other five in the series. That being said, however, I am going to definitely track them down – as I am hooked.
Reviewed by Brian Godfrey
A Murder Unmentioned by Sulari Gentill
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-921997-43-3