A Testament of Character is book 10 in the Rowland Sinclair Mystery series, and really, if you haven’t dipped your toes into this series yet, you really don’t know what you’re missing! While my love for the Maisie Dobbs series (see previous review) has waxed and waned a little, my love for Rowly and his three friends has never wavered.
Gentill has consistently written well constructed, endearing and historically accurate stories. Set between the wars in Sydney, although she’s not afraid to take us on around the world to keep the story lines fresh and interesting.
Book 9 saw us having some rather scary experiences with Rowly in Shanghai, so it was nice to start this book in the Raffles Hotel, Singapore with our beloved four relaxing and rejuvenating in the style they know best – jazz, good food and liquor, cards and dancing. Until the sudden death of a good friend sees them all flying off to New York.
Naturally, things do not run smoothly or go to plan. But what’s the point of writing a mystery series without complications, and well, a mystery?!
Once again, Gentill puts one of our beloved four into a very compromising and dangerous situation that has this particular reader fearful for their life and limb.
It was curious to read two books in a row that included Joe Kennedy as a peripheral character. In Maisie Dobbs he was the rather dubious US ambassador in London, and with Rowly he was attending a party at the Hearst penthouse hosted by Marion Davies. His best side did not shine through in either book!
It is these brushes with well-known historical figures that I find most endearing in the Rowland Sinclair series. Our time in the US sees Rowly and friends chatting with Orson Wells, fighting off the remnants of the Gustin Gang and Joe Lombardo’s gangsters in Boston, playing one of the first sets of the Parker Brothers Monopoly game and meeting up with F, Scott Fitzgerald for a drink (or five!) at the Grovepark Inn, Asheville, and later with Zelda at the nearby Highland Hospital.
But now I think it’s time for our intrepid travellers to return home, unless Gentill decides to detour them via London, so they be there for the death of King George V and the coronation and abdication of King Edward the VIII.
#1 A Few Right Thinking Men
What I loved about this book: the witty dialogue, the opening of the Sydney Harbour Bridge (which my own grandparents attended on their honeymoon in 1932).
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: all that stuff about the New Guard, fascism in Australia and Eric Campbell.
#2 A Decline in Prophets
What I loved about this book: the art deco cover, a Cary Grant cameo, the Bohemian lifestyle & a cruise to New York.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Norman Lindsay’s Blue Mountains soirée’s
#3 Miles Off Course
What I loved about this book: the visit to the Hydro Majestic Hotel in Medlow Bath, more Norman Lindsay & a run-in with Stella Miles Franklin
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: meeting Rowly’s half brother for the first time.
#4 Paving the New Road
What I loved about this book: meeting a young, naive Eva Braun as well as Nancy Wake and Unity Mitford. Flying lessons with Kingsford-Smith.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: who is Egon Kisch? The horror of Rowly’s kidnapping and torture by the SA (Ernst Rӧhm).
#5 Gentlemen Formerly Dressed
What I (loved) about this book: how history has taught us nothing – how Brexit, isolationist policies and right wing thinking is once again dominating our politics.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Fascism in London 1933 & eugenics.
#6 A Murder Unmentioned
What I loved about this book: the Sinclair family backstory – domestic violence and murder.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: A young Bob Menzies made an appearance.
#7 Give the Devil His Due
What I loved about this book: an appearance by Errol Flynn and the seedier side of 1933 Sydney. The development of more complex, nuanced relationships between our four friends as well as Rowly’s extended family.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Maroubra speedway.
Prequel – The Prodigal Son (e-book only – download your copy here.)
What I loved about this book: the very first meeting of Rowly, Edna, Clyde and Milton.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Gentill can draw too – her illustrations graced the pages of this e-book novella.
#8 – A Dangerous Language
What I loved about this book: 1935 Canberra & Melbourne and the increasing frisson between Rowly and Edna.
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Gentill plans to continue the series until the end of WWII. I don’t mind the new covers, but I loved the previous art deco covers more – they were more stylish and Bohemian to my mind.
#9 – All the Tears in China
What I loved about this book: 1935 Shanghai, Sir Victor Sassoon and the colourful cover (although I would have liked to see the art deco cover for this too!)
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: Russian revolution refugees in Shanghai & the horrific conditions in Ware Road Gaol.
What I loved about this book: The little nod to Brideshead Revisited, Hugh Lygon and his teddy bear – it would seem that our dearly departed Danny stole his teddy bear when they were at Oxford together!
What I learnt or want to remember about this book: How long it took to fly to NY in 1935 – just 14 days!
Book 12 or 20 Books of Summer Winter
- Shortlisted, Ned Kelly Awards Best Crime Fiction, 2021
- Shortlisted, Davitt Awards Best Crime Fiction, 2021