Pantera Press, Australia, 2020
Sulari Gentill’s work is often reviewed as an easy read. Indeed the Rowland Sinclair series are highly readable, compelling works – we can hardly read fast enough to take in the words.
This facility is not easy to achieve. It is a mark of Sulari’s literary prowess that she can spin us through the intricacies of her plots, engage our emotions with her now almost familial main characters and their supporting casts, and subtly instruct us in the fascinating details of the period of history in which the stories sit.
A Testament of Character takes us to the USA of 1935 with the aftermath of the crash, the Depression, the lingering lustre of the 1920s. Rowland, with his usual team of Edna, Milton and Clyde, travels to Boston to take on the role of executor of the will of his old Oxford university friend Daniel Cartwright, who has died suddenly – shot by hand unknown.
It is said that he has sent Rowly to war, and indeed the dastardly deeds that dog Rowland’s attempts to honour the wishes of his friend to leave his estate to the elusive Otis Norcross are extremely violent – not only is Rowland’s life under threat, but the safety of his friends is also constantly at risk. The financial stakes of the estate are high and passions of several kinds run hot. We are on the edge of our reading seats throughout with constant suspicion and a string of assaults – fear and loathing all round.
At the heart of this gripping 10th Rowland Sinclair novel is the issue of homosexual love, how society has regarded it and how it has mistreated people in the name of ‘decency’’ and ‘propriety’ because of whom they love. Rowland’s love for Edna is also closer to the surface of this story than in some of the earlier novels. Indeed, love and passion drive the interwoven plots of the novel – their capacity to engender both good and evil deeds in people.
Lurking behind the fiction of the crime solving are strands of real history with the figures of Joseph Kennedy and F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda prominent in the plot. The influence of the Italian and Irish gangs also plays a role. We see the effects of the Great Depression on ordinary working folk and the stratification of society which allows the old rich to remain unscathed, not just from financial disaster but from personal tragedy and to buy anything they need to solve problems large and small.
Again, Sulari Gentill has written a crime fiction novel which is so much more. The parallels with our current situation, politically and economically, are remarkable and goose-bump inducing. Highly recommended reading – and now of course we await with bated breath the eleventh.