I’d never heard of Australian author Sulari Gentill before picking up A Few Right Thinking Men because of the beauty of the art work on the cover. I love art deco and the cover of this novel reminds me of travel posters from the 1930s, the colours used by Clarice Cliff in her ceramics, and the beauty of Sydney Harbour and the coat-hanger. The story had a lot to live up to!
A Few Right Thinking Men is the first book in a series of eight books to date in the Rowland Sinclair mysteries.
The main character is Rowland Sinclair, generally known as Rowly, who is an enormously rich young artist who lives in his family’s mansion, Woodland House, in a beautiful part of Sydney. The Sinclair family money comes from a sheep farm out near Yass in country New South Wales, where Rowly’s older brother Wilfred lives with his wife and young son. The Sinclair’s wealth during 1931 is a huge contrast to that of most Australians during the Depression.
Rowly has filled up Woodlands House with fellow artists who are poor but talented. He is in love with Edna, a sculptor who occasionally models nude for him. Edna also lives at Woodlands House.
When the story starts, Rowly seems to be the only person left in Australia who doesn’t care about politics. His friends are Communists while his brother and most of the blokes around Yass belong to the Old Guard. Both groups are suspicious of each other, but when Rowly’s Uncle Rowland is found murdered, the Fascist New Guard are suspected. Rowly, with the assistance of his friends, infiltrates the New Guards by asking party leader Eric Campbell if he can paint his portrait for the prestigious Archibald Prize. Rowly takes his friend Clyde’s name to prevent Campbell from making the connection to the Sinclair name.
I liked Rowly, Edna, his friends, their life style, reading about their art, Sydney, the time the story was set, the way the story was told, everything really except for the politics. Poor Rowly seemed to feel the same way, stuck between extreme groups who wanted to beat each other, tar and feather people, or discriminatory brand names on the foreheads of those who held different political ideas to their own.
I’ll give the second book in the series a go, but hope to find A Decline in Prophets is more of a mystery and less of an Australian political history lesson.