Books & Literature

Book Review: Rowland Sinclair Mysteries Book 3: Miles off Course, by Sulari Gentill

When Wiradjuri man Harry Simpson goes missing, Rowland Sinclair find himself in the High Country searching for him and gets caught up in a communist plot.

Author Sulari Gentill is a former corporate lawyer who now lives and writes in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains. The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries are set in numerous locations, ranging from the dark and difficult days of the Depression in both Australia and Europe, highlighting the harsh realities of the period. She writes with a great sense of time and place, interweaving her fictional characters with skilfully-researched historical events, providing snippets of our history.

Although each book can stand alone, my first encounter with Rowly and his friends was this third book in the series and I think it would be better to read the earlier ones first as this would provide more background about Rowly, his family and his often difficult relationship with brother Wilfred.

Including historical figures provides wonderful backgrounds for her cast of characters, the wealthy Rowland (Rowly) Sinclair and his friends who share his lavish hospitality: Edna Higgins, the artist who sculpts; Milton Isaac, a self-described poet who endlessly quotes poetry but doesn’t actually write any himself; and Clyde Watson Jones, like Rowly, a painter, but he is very poor. As Rowly loves Edna but is afraid to tell her so, they have a spiky relationship at times when his jealously flares up. To reinforce the sense of time and place, Gentill begins each chapter with a quotation or newspaper clipping.

The interaction of fact and fiction is so skilfully done that at times it’s hard to tell the difference. Lt. Colonel Eric Campbell, leader of the New Guard, a far-right organisation formed in response to the policies adopted by Jack Lang, makes an appearance as does Senator Charles Hardy an ardent separatist and leading member of the Riverina Movement.

The story begins in the relaxing and restorative atmosphere of The Hydro Majestic in Medlow Bath but, of course, that doesn’t last long. Brother Wilfred’s head stockman, Wiradjuri man Harry Simpson is missing and Rowly and friends soon find themselves in the High Country searching for him. In this somewhat isolated place Rowland is surprised to meet a man he was at school with, the honourable Humphrey Abercrombie who Rowly remembered as a sad hanger-on who had been bullied. Abercrombie tries to enlist Rowly’s sympathy by insisting someone is trying to kill him, but his real agenda is to convince Rowly to support him in furthering the communist cause even if he has to kidnap the Sinclair brothers to so it.

The author does a wonderful job of portraying the heady mix of local and world politics, the casual racism of the time and the inequalities which were even more prominent than usual during the Depression. I have requested the rest of the series from my local library so I can complete this enthralling Australian series which combines two of my favourite genres. The Rowland Sinclair Mysteries are a must read for history and crime buffs and I highly recommend them.

Reviewed by Jan Kershaw

Rating out of 10:  9

Released by: Pantera Press
Release Date: February 2012
RRP: $22.99

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