MILES OFF COURSE - Sulari Gentill
Not sure what's weirder, talking to fictional characters, or the feeling that you actually know those fictional characters... Either way, you have to think it's quite a feat for a writer to get you to the stage where you're more than happy to regard her characters as real people. MILES OFF COURSE is now the third book from Sulari Gentill featuring Rowland Sinclair and his band of supporters - Edna, Milton and Clyde and that feeling of connection, of reality and authenticity continues ... in spades.
The connection is probably helped by the way that Gentill sets her characters and her stories in differing, and frequently real settings. Whilst MILES OFF COURSE starts out at the luxury Hydro Majestic Hotel and spa, it ends up deep in the High Country, often in significantly less luxurious circumstances, although one property owner's pride in the running water and other mod cons was particularly illustrative of the difference in times (this book is set in 1933 after all). But the move to the High Country and the Tumut valley in particular comes as Rowly's brother Wilfred despatches him in search of their missing foreman, Wiradjuri man Harry Simpson, a long time and much trusted employee of the Sinclair family who has disappeared in highly unsatisfactory circumstances. As Rowly, and his entourage move into this environment, it's very obvious that we're in a part of the world that the author knows and loves. The sense of place becomes almost palpable and there's a real feeling for how the High Country looks, feels and grows into and around the story.
I have been a fan of these books since the first one was released, but intriguingly in MILES OFF COURSE I think I see a little deepening of character, a few glimpses of, maybe not so much internal crisis, as conflicts. Not surprising really as Gentill's light touch with the storytelling should not be misread as light-weight. Whilst there is humour and a certain insouciance that seems to fit with the born to wealth and privilege background of Rowly, there were points at which something deeper revealed. Whether it was the internal bored playboy peeking out from under the mantle of social conscience, or whether it was deeper, private passions more starkly drawn, Rowly is not everything he seems. Nor is his brother Wilfred quite the stuffed shirt he seems; Milton as shallow; Edna as assured or Clyde as confident about his choices in life.
Given that this is now the third book in the series, to be honest I can't make a definitive statement about whether or not you would be better to read the earlier ones first. Whilst there is ongoing character development, and you will get more from the series understanding the relationships between Rowly and his family, and his entourage the books would work on their own. But if you haven't read the earlier books in the series, you really should. Gentill's combination of factual events and places, built around the fictional undertakings of her cast of characters help to give the books a fantastic grounding, and a firm sense of place. Done, mind you, with the lightest of touches, and with the flair of a real storyteller, the books "feel" right and real and authentic, the stories are fast paced, nuanced, often funny, frequently insightful and just flat out darned good yarns.
In early 1933, Rowland Sinclair and his companions are ensconced in the superlative luxury of The Hydro Majestic - Medlow Bath, where trouble seems distant indeed.
And then Harry Simpsom vanishes.
Croquet and pre-dinner cocktails are abandoned for hte High Country where Rowland hunts for Simpson with a determination that is as mysterious as the disappearance itself. Stockmen, gangsters and a belligerent writer all gather to the fray, as the investigation becomes embroiled with a much darker conspiracy.
Murder, Treason, Trespass, Kidnapping, Betrayal... Again, Rowland Sinclair finds himself in the middle of it all.