A few right thinking men is the first novel of Sulari Gentill's Rowland Sinclair Mysteries. It was first published on the 1st of June 2010 and is Gentill's first novel. It is the best seller for Pantera Press and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book.
"To all the right thinking men I have known, and the libertines who keep them in line."
A few Right Thinking Men introduces Rowland Sinclair to the world at large. "Rowland Sinclair is an artist and a gentleman. In Australia's 1930s the Sinclair name is respectable and influentical, yet Rowland has a talent for scandal.
Even with thousands of unemployed lining the streets, Rowland's sheltered world is one of exorbitant wealth, culture and impeccable tailoring. He relies on the Sinclair fortune to indulge his artistic passions and friends...a poet, a painter and a brazen sculptress.
After his namesake and uncle, Rowland Sinclair, dies of a heart attack after being brutally beaten in his own home, Rowland Sinclair finds himself at the centre of a murder case, and in some eyes the key suspect, as he is his uncle's sole heir. Rowland, or "Rowly" as he is known to his friends, lives in his family's Woollahra mansion, Woodlands House, with three of his friends.
The first is Edna Higgins, a beautiful and happy-go-lucky sculptress having trouble selling her works in the Great Depression. She has been staying there for two years when the novel opens on the 6th December 1931. The second is Elias "Milton" Isaacs, a well-read "poet" who adopted the name Milton as well as the works of several well-known poets and enjoys the finer aspects of living life with the rich and wealthy, despite his communist commitment. The last is Clyde Watson Jones, a painter from rural New South Wales who has found his way in life though a variety of jobs and towns before arriving at the door of Woodlands House. The house also becomes a home for down and out painters, artists and people in general.
Rowly's uncle dies on Tuesday, the 10th of December 1931 and after meeting with the police and helping Wilfred, his elder brother, settle affairs in Sydney, he returns to the family estate in Yass, Oaklea, for the funeral and Christmas. It is not long into the new year of 1932, however, that his friends arrive at Yass with his beloved German, yellow Mercedes in tow. They stay at a hotel in town while Rowland continues to spend time at Oaklea, where he is growing suspicious of Wilfred's activities. Already Wilfred and Rowly have gotten into several arguments about his general behaviour before Rowly, spying on a meeting held by Wilfred, is shot.
Rowly soon discovers his brother is a part of the Old Guard, an organisation determined to route out Communists. By this stage Rowly has already got suspicions about the death of his uncle, ignored by the police, regarding the New Guard. Because his uncle's housekeeper mentions she saw dark ghosts attacking the elder Rowland Sinclair, and Paddy Ryan, a comrade of Milton's, was beaten up by similar figures by a group of people who he thinks is the New Guard, Rowly and his friends are convinced the New Guard has something to do with his uncle's death.
However, before Rowly can stay longer at Oaklea, Milton is attacked by a group of Charles Hardy's supporters and dragged away to be tarred and feathered because of a Communist speech he made the previous evening at the hotel. Rowly finds Clyde and Edna and in their attempts to rescue Milt, Clyde and Rowly overturn the tar but end up being restrained by the men themselves. They are saved in time by Wilfred, after Milt is forced to have a haircut and is dunked in the river, who tells them, after fighting with Rowly, to leave town.
Back in Sydney, Rowly is still determined to find out who killed his uncle so he agrees to Milton's plan of posing as Clyde and pretending to paint Eric Campbell, the leader of the New Guard, for the Archibald Prize, in order to get closer to the New Guard. Rowly is also forced to adopt Lenin after Campbell accepts "Clyde's" offer and Rowly is invited to several events, such as the Bowral Races where Edna poses as his fi'ance leading to Rowly to propose to her, and New Guard rallies. At these events he poses as a resident of Burwood, where Ed's father lives, and befriends Campbell's bodyguard, who reveals to him the New Guard's plan to attack parliament. Rowly informs the police, also undercover in the New Guard, who can't do much, and subsequently runs into the state Premier Jack Lang, who offers him a job.
At the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge Rowly escorts Kate and Ernest before stopping Francis de Groot's horse from running into the crowd. Later that night he returns to Campbell's to get his paint box, knowing his cover has been blown. Rowly is attacked by members of the New Guard's secret legion, who had originally killed his uncle, accidentally, while beating him on Alcott's orders. In the struggle Ed accidentally shots Rowly in the leg and he ends up in hospital. While there he learns that for his safety, he and his friends are being "exiled" by Wilfred. Rowly makes his good byes and then sails away soon after.
Chapter 1. Edit
Rowly is struggling with a landscape painting when Ed walks in and informs him of how bad it is. She also relates how she had to discount a large sculture, L'escalier in order to sell it to one of her father's academic friends, and how she meet Archie Greenwood, a fellow students of theirs at Ashton, in happy valley where she thinks he is now living. She invited him back to Woodlands House but he wouldn't come, however Ed left him her card.
Mary Brown, the housemaid comes in to wipe paint and asks about the dining arrangements. Rowly tells her it they'll dine late as both Clyde and Milt are at the pub. Ed asks about Rowly's plans for the next day, to dine with his uncle, Rowland Sinclair at the Masonic Club and she asks him to come down to the Domain the next day at three with Clyde, Milt and her, to support a friend, Morris, who is speaking for the Communist Party. Rowly agrees.
Chapter 2. Edit
List of DeathsEdit
Development, Publication and ReceptionEdit
Publication and ReceptionEdit
A violent assault on his favourite uncle, who has a heart attack and dies, propels Rowland Sinclair into the role of amateur detective. Sinclair, an artist and gentleman of 1930s Sydney and scion of a prominent wealthy family, stars in this projected series, with the second Sinclair novel out next year. Gentill explores the territory that was first mapped in fiction by D.H. Lawrence in Kangaroo: the rise of organised and violently anti-communist Australian groups with fascist sympathies, most notably the New Guard. The cutting of the ribbon at the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge by Captain Francis de Groot is probably the best-known moment in the history of the New Guard and it's a major plot point here. This is an engaging tale. The writing is witty and assured, confidently claiming the historical territory and depicting the social groups with a knowledgeable affection. Kerryn Goldsworthy, Spectrum, Sydney Morning Herald - 18 December 2010
Although historical mysteries are one of the most popular of crime-fiction genres, they seem for some reason to have gone out of fashion here. Perhaps Sulari Gentill’s debut novel A Few Right Thinking Men, which is set in Australia in the 1930s, heralds a welcome new trend. Gentill has chosen a fascinating yet little-known period in history, a time of political turbulence when our country teetered on the brink of revolution. Fans of classic crime fiction will also be pleased to learn that, with her amateur detective Rowland Sinclair, she has brought back the gentleman sleuth but with a difference: he's a larrikin Lord Peter Wimsey, with a penchant for living la vie de boheme. Christine Cremen, Sun Herald - 4 October 2010
It takes a talented writer to imbue history with colour and vivacity. It is all the more impressive when the author creates a compelling narrative. As an example of a burgeoning genre, A Few Right Thinking Men more than matches its historical crime contemporaries in both areas. Rowland Sinclair is an artist and gentleman in 1930s Australia. Having lived a privileged and sheltered life, his world is thrown into chaos after the brutal murder of his uncle by unknown assailants. Concerned and greatly intrigued, Rowland infiltrates the echelons of both the old and new guard. Communism and fascism surface alongside other ideologies among the ‘right thinking men’. As Rowland delves deeper, he edges closer to the truth of his uncle’s murder.
First-time author Sulari Gentill creates vivid characters throughout. Rowland, his friends Clyde and Milton, and lover Edna all lovingly evoke a past artistic spirit. The brushes, paints and portraits hung around the house all leave an indelible impression of early Australian bohemia. Eric Campbell and Henry Alcott are also memorable, and a devilish sense of humour helps buoy the novel’s more historic roots. Put simply, Gentill shows great understanding of both craft and structure. A Few Right Thinking Men is the first in a planned series by Sulari Gentill featuring key protagonist Rowland Sinclair. This reviewer is heartened by the news, which demonstrates Pantera Press’s willingness to support the continuing development of a talented emerging writer. It is rare to find such an assured début as A Few Right Thinking Men. The novel deserves to be both read and remembered as an insight into the Australia that was; its conflicting ideologies, aims and desires; the hallmarks of a country still maturing. Laurie Steed, Australian Book Review – 1 October 2010
a thoroughly enjoyable foray into those long-ago days when national politics could never be classified as dull... an absorbing story about a crucial but underwritten slice of Australian history. The narrative and characters she has created complement the historical facts and give colour to events that are at risk of dropping from public consciousness. Francis de Groot's infamous action in intervening to cut the ribbon at the Harbour Bridge opening, the Great Depression biting hard into people's lives and the conspiracies and riots of this volatile era should capture the interest of readers looking for meaning as well as pleasure in their novels. Mary Philips, Courier Mail
A Few Right Thinking Men is a richly drawn and involving Australian historical crime novel...Gentill's novel is a cut above much Australian crime. It's well researched and atmospheric, with a brisk pace, colourful characters and charming period dialogue. The Melbourne Age Pick of the Week 19 - June 2010
Gentill has written an immensely readable first novel, and has the second Rowland Sinclair story under her belt already. Get used to her name. We are going to be hearing a lot more of it. Booktopia
The characters are wonderfully drawn. Rowland and friends are eccentric, but not overly so, they fit within that period of history well. The members of the New and Old Guard's are nicely shadowy, dedicated to the cause, slightly mad in their own right, but not cartoonish or overdone. There are light touches of humour, and there are some sad moments - the loss of Rowland the elder, the descent of Rowland's mother into complete madness are deftly drawn. Crimespace
After being unable to settle with any of my books since finishing the marvellous Gunshot Road more than a week ago I wandered into a local bookstore to pick something brand new. The title of this called me from the shelves and when I realised it featured a little-explored period in Australia’s political history I couldn’t resist it....
This was a delightful book to read. I’ll admit right up front that the mystery component was a bit on the light side but because it played out against a fascinating and well-drawn backdrop of social and political events it kept my attention from the outset. Australia is not noted for its political unrest but Gentill has done a tremendous job of taking just enough real people and events from one of the few genuinely tense times in our political history and surrounding them with interesting fictional characters and intriguing situations. Rowly and his friends, some of whom are members of the Communist Party which is rising in popularity among the working class, find themselves up against the New Guard, a right-wing group that rose up (albeit briefly) in response to the perceived threat of the spread of Communism and the slightly more real threat from the brand of socialism expounded by the local Premier at the time, Jack Lang. The increasingly bizarre plots to ‘save’ the country are credibly depicted and do indeed demonstrate how easy it is for people who believe a little too fervently to move from doing good works to dangerous ones in the blink of an eye....
I was easily and quickly lost in the story and keen to find out how it would all unfold. I read the whole thing in a couple of sittings and would recommend it to those who don’t mind their mysteries taking a back seat to great settings, interesting historical details and warm, lively characters. It’s a delicious treat of a book. - Reactions to Reading