How much do you know about Australia in the 1930’s? I didn’t know a great deal, but I recently had an enjoyable history lesson that brought this time period to life for me.
As a result of the Great Depression, around thirty-two percent of Australians were out of work in the mid 1930’s.
In 1930, the Australian Government was advised to cut wages in order to increase profits and make exports more competitive. Social services were also cut, and Britain demanded that Australia not default on her loan obligations. The controversial Premier of New South Wales at the time was Labor leader, Jack Lang, and when he decided to withhold repayments, he was dismissed from office.
The building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Old and New Guards, the fear of Communism and the belief that Australia was heading towards a revolution on the scale that Russia had experienced – these historical facts are intertwined in Sulari Gentill’s book, A Few Right Thinking Men.
Published in 2010, it is the first in a series of historical crime fiction books that introduces an Aussie sleuth, the artist/painter, Rowland Sinclair.
The crime in the first book is more incidental to the story, with the introduction of the main characters, the general feel of the time period, and the prevailing political atmosphere being the main focus. This gives the book a slowish start, but as it is the first book in the series, I have the feeling it promises some interesting twists and turns later on.
Rowland Sinclair is the youngest son of a wealthy pastoralist. He is ten years old when he farewells his two older brothers Aubrey and Wilfred in 1914 as they leave for Egypt on a troop ship. Aubrey dies in action and Wilbur later returns home, a different man.
Rowland has an artist’s attraction to the left wing and is tolerant of Communism, and much to Wilbur’s disgust, occupies the family mansion in Sydney with his penniless Bohemian friends. Wilbur is one of the ‘Old Guard,’ conservative, and convinced that the Communists are going to overrun Australia. He lives with his wife and child on the family farm at Yass, in country New South Wales.
Rowland is indifferent to politics until a murder occurs and unsatisfied with the police investigation, he takes matters into his own hands and uncovers a bizarre conspiracy.
Some interesting aspects:
Rowland is a talented painter and his Bohemian friends have interesting characters and backgrounds: one is an ardent Communists who quotes poetry as if it were his own, to which Rowland always responds in an undertone with the name of the original poet; another is a sculptress.
Many of the chapters begin with a short extract from the newspapers of the day.
There are a wide range of political and social views represented.
The author’s background is in law and she is married to an historian whose area of interest is the Fascist movement in Australian history.
The attitudes that came about after World War I – this reminded me of my own Grannie’s reactions stemming from the Second World War. She would refuse to eat the ‘German rye bread’ my mother bought (decades later) when she moved to Australia to live with us. My husband’s Grandmother wouldn’t buy anything made in Japan because she knew men who had been killed or maltreated by the Japanese forces in South-East Asia:
“Rowly,” he said, as he shook his brother’s hand.
“I see you’re still driving that Fritz monstrosity,” Wilfred said curtly.
“She’s a good car,” Rowland replied, his voice a little tight, knowing what was coming.
“The Germans killed our brother.” Wilfred’s response was cold.
Rowland sighed. This was not a new quarrel, and Wilfred was not alone in seeing the Mercedes as a betrayal of Aubrey. Rowland saw it differently.
The details of life in and around Sydney were very interesting: the opening of the Harbour Bridge, the descriptions of various suburbs, razor gangs and crime, and the effects of the depression.
There are seven books in the series so far, which I’m looking forward to reading. I heard about the author’s books from a few different sources – a good friend, my daughter, Zana, who has collected all the books in the series so far, & Brona, who has written about some of them here. If you enjoy some history with your crime, I’d also recommend this author.
Originally published by PanteraPress, which is the copy I have above (ISBN 9781464206375) and re-printed by Poisoned Pen Press.