GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED - Sulari Gentill
The Rowland Sinclair series is up to book number five with the release of GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED, yet somehow it feels like there should be more of them. That could simply be wishful thinking.
There is much to be admired about these books. The plots are clever and believable. Whilst the subject matter can be sobering, it's delivered with a light touch, drawing out the amusing where appropriate. There is a very strong sense of place, and the time period in which the action occurs. In the case of GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED and the previous book PAVING THE NEW ROAD that is Europe in the Great Depression, with the rise of the Nazi's in Germany as the backdrop. In PAVING THE NEW ROAD, Rowly and his group had a frighteningly close encounter with the extremes of Fascism in Germany, the aftermath of which now plays itself out in England in GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED. As a side note, picking up the earlier books in any order would work just fine, but these two they really should be read in sequence.
All of the main characters are here - Edna Higgins, sculptress, love interest, deflector of royal attentions. 'Milton' Elias Isaacs, would be poet, reader and oft quoter of others, is fierce when fierce is required, and somewhat befuddled when confronted with a community of English eccentrics with more elaborate tastes in clothing than he. Clyde Watson Jones, fellow painter, the most down to earth member of Rowly's associates, willing to put his body on the line when the Blackshirts weigh in. Rowly's brother Wilfred, wife and boys are also in town, Wilfred ostensibly to attend the London Economic Conference. Providing a perfect way of introducing some well-known figures from history, and a starring role for the wife of an Australian ex-Prime Minister.
Some elements remain consistent throughout all of these books, Wilfred's swings between feeling protective towards his younger brother, and clearly fighting back a desire to strangle him. Rowly's love for Edna, kept in reserve by his concern at losing her friendship instead. Milton's quoting of other's poetic snippets. All of which adds up not to a sense of been there / done that, but a real connection with this group. Like time spent with good friends.
Gentill's storytelling ability is, as always, on display in GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED. Deftly combining the extremes of Fascism, and the cloud of the Great Depression with disquiet at the ease in which a couple of Communist Australian's can accept the services of a butler is not, one would assume, a skill that comes easily to many. It does to Gentill, as does her observational humour. The complications of tie's being knotted, the comedy inherent in a wax head in a hatbox, the rabbit in headlights effect of a full set of cutlery at a formal dinner. All the while building a clever murder plot, with Rowly and his team determined to right wrongs for the dis-empowered in a world where money and titles can influence outcomes.
Even if you think you're not a fan of historical crime, this is a series so well done it could change your mind. Even if you're not a fan of crime, then this is a series that is so elegantly done it could change your mind. This is a series that I've used to convince non-readers to change their minds.
After narrowly escaping Nazi terror, Rowland Sinclair and his companions land in London, believing they are safe. But they are wrong. A bizzare murder plunges the hapless Australians into a queer world of British aristocracy, Fascist Blackshirts, illicit love, scandal and spies. A world where gentlemen are not always what they are dressed up to be.