This is my first book and review for the AWW 2012 Challege. I must admit to never having heard of Sulari Gentill until I started digging around for recs and lists for the reading challenge late last year.
The reasons why I was interested in, and got excited by, Gentill (besides her being Australian and a woman):
1. Reviews spoke about her meticulous approach to the history in her crime fiction,
2. She was born in Sri Lanka, and
3. The main character, Rowland Sinclair, was not a PI or police officer but an artist, aristocrat, and amateur sleuth (I love an amateur sleuth).
When I first started reading A Few Right Thinking Men (AFRTM), I had to adjust my pacing expectations. I’d just been reading some contemporary crime novels where the pacing was very fast and content deliberately shocking. Gentill’s work is more considered and takes the reader on a mellower ride. She evokes the 1930s Sydney arts scene and various suburban traits subtly, and captures the events that caught the popular imagination in a compelling way (e.g. the controversy of building the Sydney Harbour Bridge and its subsequent opening).
I enjoyed getting to know the protagonists, their politics, and the broader context of Australia during the Depression (of which I was woefully ignorant). Gentill has an adept touch with the historical flourishes and weaves them into the narrative arc well. In clumsier hands, this kind of material can be difficult to wade through. Too much setting up of the context means to me that the author isn’t paying attention to the mode they’re writing in; after all, it’s not a textbook. The complicated politics and factions of the time, which make Left and Right politics today seem incredibly mediocre, are fascinating.
Gentill’s writing brought forth this sociopolitical context and tone, and she populated the story with well-crafted examples of the extreme characters to be found on all sides of the political public sphere. I particularly liked the range of class details the story contained, and the fact that Rowland wasn’t above being critiqued by his friends. His extremely pampered position in society enables much of the plot, and Gentill is careful to present him as eccentric for his class (i.e. happy to ‘slum it’ with hedonistic creative sorts) but not a superhero (e.g. the close encounter Rowland had at the 50-50 club with a member of the sensational ‘razor gangs’). The nuanced way Gentill writes Wilfred (Rowland’s conservative older brother) is also indicative of the character complexity she achieves.
For the most part, the narrative suspense was well retained. There were only a couple of points that stumbled for me: one was guessing the ‘mistake’ that was made with regard to the murder (while the novel’s characters were still talking me through possibilities), and the other was the denouement where Rowland’s unconventional artist friend, Edna Higgins, seemed to slip out of character.
Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading AFRTM and will be seeking out the others in the Rowland Sinclair series: A Decline in Prophets (released July 2011) and Miles Off Course (Feb 2012). A fourth book is also planned for 2012 release.