Rebooted Reading

Posted on October 19, 2013 by

I don’t remember any stretch of my life longer than a few days when I didn’t have a book or three on the go. So the past several months, when little time or inclination for my favourite pastime presented itself, have been…odd. Of course there has been the inevitable emotional upheaval of a family crisis but even in the midst of all that I could sense that some portion of my general air of ‘unsettledness’ was due to a sudden absence of the escape and comfort that reading has always provided. So perhaps it’s not peculiar that the first signs I was starting to calm down and feel normal were that I was noticing books again.

Like most avid readers I have a mountain of unread books tucked away around the house and on various digital devices but I found them all a bit overwhelming and so began my reading reboot on the last-in-first-read principle.

Sulari Gentill’s fifth Rowly Sinclair novel arrived serendipitously on my doorstep at the beginning of the month and there couldn’t have been a better book for me to reconnect to reading with. Having an afternoon to myself and a glass of pinot grigio by my side I soon lost myself in GENTLEMEN FOMERLY DRESSED which has maintained the high standards of humour, great characters and romping tales set by its predecessors. It was a joy.

Bookish Joy

Posted on October 2, 2013 by

Over the past couple of months I have been enduring something of a family crisis. One of the minor side effects of it all is that I’ve barely blogged. Even when I could find the time or inclination it would have been difficult to find something to discuss as I’ve barely read a book – or thought sensibly about one – for weeks.

GentlemenFormerlyDressedGentillBut tonight as I opened my mail I was excited by a bookish thing for the first time in ages. I was lucky enough to receive an early copy of the fifth book in Sulari Gentill’s crime series set in the 1930′s. I have adored all the previous books in the series for their humour, Australian sensibility, historical details and gentle undercurrent of social commentary. And just because reading them makes me happy. I quite literally couldn’t wait to dive in to this latest installment and have already perused the first chapter. Though to do the book…and myself…justice I shall plan a time when I can savour reading the rest of it.

As it happens there’s a good chance the worst of this particular family crisis might be resolved on Friday and we’ve a long weekend here this weekend. Serendipity?

Book Review – Author Sulari Gentill


Book – Gentlemen Formerly Dressed
Author – Sulari Gentill
ISBN – 9781921997303
Publisher – Pantera Press

The fifth book of the Rowland Sinclair series continues in the well set style of the previous four with Sulari continuing to blend facts with fiction in the gentle and well-bred style of the 1930’s.

This time Rowland and his friends have arrived in London after narrowly escaping Nazi Germany. Rowland is concerned that London parliament is warned of the German “Brown Shirts” and the rising influence Hitler is gaining for his anti-Jewish cry.

Among the complacency of the British, the economic concerns taking precedence and the camouflaged debauchery of the upper-classes Rowland and his friends find themselves adrift in a society more concerned with personal politics and class conscious cover-up than delivering fairness and justice.

Sulari continues to deliver and is fast building a loyal fan-base with these books. If you haven’t picked one up yet, do! You will not have to look for another author until you have completed these five.

Rowland Sinclair

Review: Gentlemen Formerly Dressed

Posted on 13/10/2013 by

GFD_Flat_C_300dpiSulari Gentill has produced another winning novel with Gentlemen Formerly Dressed, the latest instalment in the Rowland Sinclair series of historical crime fiction series set in the 1930s. With its witty, erudite plot and engaging cast of characters, Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is a great pleasure to read, shedding new light for this reader on 1930s Europe and the Great Depression, not to mention the superiority of the Full Windsor Knot and the correct use of cutlery.

The story starts days after we last left Rowland and his Bohemian companions — sculptress Edna Higgins, fellow painter Clyde Watson Jones and Elias Isaacs aka ‘Milton’ — running for their lives from Nazi blackshirts in Germany. Their desire to put as much distance between them and their fascist attackers appears well founded when the French doctor who has set Rowly’s broken arm and treated the swastika of burns on his chest leads German officials to their Paris hotel.

The group flees to London where Rowland is surprised to cross paths with his older brother Wilfred, who disapproves of and cares for Rowly in equal measure. Wilfred has decamped to the British capital with his family in order to attend the London Economic Conference. Though keen to see Rowland and his entourage shipped safely back to Australia as soon as possible, Wilfred agrees to make some introductions so Rowland can first try to spread word about what he has witnessed in Germany.

But Rowland’s plans to meet with Wilfred’s contact the Viscount of Pierrepont at a gentlemen’s club go horribly awry when the Sinclair brothers stumble on a bizarre murder scene involving a man in a frilled, blood-soaked nightdress, a ceremonial sword and a hysterical young woman. When the young woman is later arrested for the murder, Rowland and his friends, convinced of her innocence, take it upon themselves to investigate further, plunging them — as the back cover blurb punningly puts it — ‘into a queer world of British aristocracy, Fascist Blackshirts, illicit love, scandal and spies.’

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed has all the elements that makes the books in this series such a pleasure to read. The period detail is thorough but never jarring. Rowland and his entourage rub shoulders with famous historical figures, from HG Wells and Stanley Bruce (Australia’s High Commissioner in Britain) to Prince George and Winston Churchill. Milton continues to taunt fascists and quote famous poets without acknowledgment. And one brief shining moment notwithstanding, the unresolved sexual tension between Rowland and Edna continues apace.

But Gentill keeps her stories fresh by shedding new light on 1930s history, firmly but gently steering her characters towards the dark times ahead. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed is bound to please Gentill’s existing fans and no doubt win her (more) new ones.

The novel has some wonderful set pieces, affording several laugh out loud moments. Among my favourites is a party scene, which contrasts Clyde’s working class background with Rowland’s privileged upbringing to great effect.

“Clyde, old boy, are you all right?” Roland whispered… “You look a trifle unwell.”
“Of course I do.” Clyde shook his head. “Why don’t you?”
“I was at Oxford,” Rowland replied, shrugging. “Englishmen, you know. I’m sorry, mate. I should have realised this was not an ordinary dance.”
“Rowly,” Clyde said, convinced his friend was taking the situation far too lightly, “We are surrounded…surrounded by men in evening gowns and make-up. We have to get the hell out of of here!”
Rowland grinned… “Don’t panic, mate…just don’t ask anyone to dance.”

I can’t say much about my other favourite scene for fear of spoilers, except to say it involves Rowland Sinclair, a Salvation Army Corps Cadet and a rousing chorus of ‘Even Greater Things’.



Book Review - Karen Chisolm


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.


Review | Friday 25 October 2013

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill

It’s 1933 and the well-bred but occasionally low-brow Rowland Sinclair has just escaped torture in Germany, fled Paris, and is waiting in England for passage home to Australia. However, he and his fabulously bohemian group of live-in friends cannot leave until Sinclair has informed someone in power of what is happening under the Nazi banner. His very first meeting ends with the discovery of a body: blood-soaked, rent with a sword, dressed in a frilly nightie, and a peer of the realm. In a society so completely caught up in manners, no one much wants to investigate such an improper way of getting killed, but Sinclair and his band of merry artists wish to see justice done.

Sulari Gentill’s England is polished, yet is also imbued with a sense of fun, and Gentlemen Formerly Dressed combines cameos from those traipsing across Europe at the time (Rowly bumps into H.G. Wells at a mind-numbingly boring conference, then barely minutes later gets into a brawl with fascists in the public gallery); an enormously enjoyable amount of fainting from shock; snippets of related news items and etiquette from the time; lots of deliciously scandalous moments where people splutter ‘I say!’ with much indignity; and Sinclair rarely being shocked by said scandals when others are, casually stating, ‘I was at Oxford.’

Alongside all this, there is genuine emotion, brutal politics and an incident of fascists being beaten up by mannequin limbs. It’s just about all you could want in a book.

Fiona Hardy blogs about Crime Fiction at and puts together the Dead Write column for the Readings Monthly newsletter.