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  • another excellent dose of Australian historical cr

    A Testament of Character is the tenth book in the Rowland Sinclair series by award-winning Australian author, Sulari Gentill. Rowland Sinclair’s shock at the sudden death of his long-time friend, Daniel Cartwright is eclipsed only by his puzzlement at the news that Danny had named him executor of his will. It’s a duty that Rowly is more than willing to perform for his dear friend, but before long, he realises that Danny has saddled him with a dangerous responsibility. Of course, his close friends, Edna Higgins, Milton Isaacs and Clyde Watson-Jones refuse to allow him to travel to America without their loyal support, so some two weeks later, the party of four is met in Boston by Danny’s lawyers, conveyed to the opulent Copley Plaza Hotel and suitably outfitted for a Massachusetts autumn funeral. Rowly is forewarned by lawyer, Oliver Burr that the Cartwright siblings are unlikely to accept the terms of their brother’s will and is disturbed to learn that his friend was murdered. Nor has the major beneficiary, Otis Norcross been located. His brothers want Danny declared insane so the will is invalid; his sister, Molly Cartwright, claims that Otis Norcross must have murdered her brother. In their quest to carry out Danny’s last wishes, Rowly and his friends acquire a Cadillac Madame X and travel to New York and Boston and into North Carolina; they discover that there is more than one Otis Norcross, and more than one Rowland Sinclair; there are parties and dancing and galleries; and there are threats, both subtle and more direct; assaults with fists, guns, knives, arrows and brass knuckles; and abductions; soon enough, Danny’s paranoia about whom he could trust appears to be vindicated; Where today a victim of a mugging might produce a photo of the assailants on a mobile phone, in 1935 a talented portrait artist like Rowland Sinclair furnishes a quick, accurate sketch that police can recognise. A certain (married) movie-maker learns that Miss Edna Higgins cannot be had, not for flowers, not for expensive jewellery, not for expansive promises, unless she so chooses; Clyde accidentally acquires a dog he later has cause to regret; the Australians encounter homophobia taken to extremes; one of their party gets married; and there’s finally a certain moment that avid fans have been anticipating for nine books. This is another excellent dose of Australian historical crime fiction and more will be eagerly awaited!

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  • An entertaining and evocative historical mystery

    A Testament of Character (also published as Where There's a Will) is an engrossing historical mystery, the tenth instalment in Sulari Gentill's popular Rowland Sinclair series. It's a new series to me, and I'm hooked! The book opens in late 1935, with Australian artist-amateur detective Rowland and his coterie - beautiful sculptress Edna Higgins, poet Milton Isaacs and fellow artist Clyde Watson Jones - in Singapore, on their way back to Australia after the events of the previous book, All the Tears in China. Rowland receives a telegram bearing the devastating news of the death of his Oxford friend Danny Cartwright, in Boston. To add to Rowland's shocked disbelief, Danny has unexpectedly appointed him as executor of his substantial estate. Upon arrival in the United States, Rowland faces another shocking situation - not only has Danny been murdered, but he's left the bulk of his wealth to a shadowy figure by the name of Otis Norcross, a man whose identity and whereabouts are an apparent mystery to all who knew Danny. Having been ruined by the 1929 financial crash, Danny's surviving siblings relied upon him for their financial security, and are none too pleased to discover he's effectively disinherited them. Poor Rowly is trapped between his grief for his friend, his desire to carry out Danny's last wishes to the best of his abilities and the substantial pressure being applied by the surviving Cartwrights to resolve the estate in their favour. As our antipodean quartet track down leads, both to find Otis Norcross and to solve Danny's murder, they face increasingly brazen interference and physical attacks from those who want them to fail. They're tailed by thugs, kidnapped by gangsters and face a couple of shootouts in their quest for the truth. Along the way, they hobnob with members of Boston's social and showbiz set, including Marion Davies, William Randolph Hurst, Orson Welles, Errol Flynn, Joseph Kennedy and a teenaged John F. Kennedy. They attend a Lindy Hop competition at the famed Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, witnessing a performance by Ella Fitzgerald. During a trip south to North Carolina, they make the acquaintance of a declining F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Fitzgerald. These vignettes of well-known historical figures add verisimilitude to the 1930s setting. The story comes to a dramatic finale as a ruthless villain with a complex motive is unmasked, and Rowland weighs up his duties as Danny's executor. The tying up of loose ends intriguingly sets the scene for future adventures awaiting the courageous foursome, as they're finally able to head home to Australia. I found Sulari Gentill's writing energetic and evocative of her inter-war setting. She cleverly weaves contemporary international issues, such as the rise of facism in Europe, into the narrative, whilst also encouraging the reader to reflect on the impact of social attitudes of the time on several of the protagonists. I particularly appreciated the character of Edna Higgins, who steadfastly strives not to be defined or restricted by her relationship to any man, defying the social norms of the time. While foreshadowing the rise of feminism, this character device also enables Gentill to maintain a sizzling sexual tension between Edna and our hero, Rowland. A Testament of Character was my entrée to the Rowland Sinclair series, so I'm late to the party, but will be endeavouring to catch up on earlier instalments in the near future. I can assure any reader who, like me, hasn't yet encountered the series that A Testament of Character reads well as a standalone, although I imagine having read the earlier books would give a broader understanding of the relationships of the central recurring characters. I'd highly recommend A Testament of Character to any reader who seeks high quality reads within the historical mystery genre.

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