A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill

A Testament of Character Cover

Publisher: Pantera Press (Trade Paperback – 3 March 2020)

Series: Rowland Sinclair – Book 10

Length: 337 pages

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Acclaimed Australian author Sulari Gentill returns with the 10th book in her bestselling Rowland Sinclair series, A Testament of Character, an intense and compelling new entry which was a lot of fun to read.

Gentill is an excellent Australian author who has written several amazing books since her 2010 debut. While her main body of work is the Rowland Sinclair series, Gentill has also written The Hero trilogy, a young adult fantasy trilogy based on classic Greek stories, and the standalone novel Crossing the Lines. I am mostly familiar with her Rowland Sinclair books, however, as I have read the last several books in this series, all of which have been extremely enjoyable due to their fantastic blend of history and mystery. The Rowland Sinclair books follow the adventures of the titular Rowland Sinclair, a wealthy left-wing Australian gentleman artist, and his three artistic friends in the 1930s, as they find themselves in the middle of several murder investigations. Each Rowland Sinclair book is a fun and entertaining part of my yearly reading calendar, and I have been looking forward to checking out A Testament of Character for a while now.

In 1935, after the horrors they experienced in Shanghai, Rowland and his bohemian friends Edna, Clyde and Milton are enjoying a leisurely holiday in Singapore before heading back to Australia. However, their travel plans are dramatically changed when Rowland receives tragic news. An old friend of Rowland from his Oxford days, Daniel Cartwright, has died suddenly, and he has appointed Rowland as the executor of his vast estate.

Detouring from Australia to Cartwright’s home city of Boston, Rowland and his companions arrive for the funeral and find themselves in the midst of controversy and familiar conflict. Not only was Cartwright estranged from the rest of his family, especially his brothers, who disapproved of his lifestyle choice, but it turns out he was murdered, and the police have yet to find any suspects. Even more mysteriously, Cartwright had only just written every member of his family out of the will, leaving all his money to an unknown man everyone claims does not exist.

Determined to carry out the last wishes of his dear friend, Rowland attempts to find the man who apparently meant so much to him. However, his investigation quickly turns sour, as he runs into numerous people who do not want Cartwright’s will to come to pass. Forced to scour Boston, New York and other parts of post-Depression America for leads, the four friends encounter all manner of dangerous and eccentric characters as they pursue their quest. However, none of them are prepared for the terrible truth they encounter, especially now that Cartwright’s killer has them in their sights.

A Testament of Character is an exciting and compelling novel that proves to be a fantastic new addition to the Rowland Sinclair series. Gentill has done an amazing job coming up with another captivating story that not only features an exciting and gripping mystery but which takes an intriguing look at America in the 1930s. This story contains the series’s usual blend of fun, intrigue and action, as the four exceedingly liberal protagonists get into all manner of trouble across conservative America. There are some rather impressive and at times dark scenes throughout this book, and Gentill has also included some major character developments that will appeal to long-term readers of this series. The end result is an exceedingly enjoyable and thrilling story of love, adventure and revenge which proved extremely hard to put down.

At the heart of this book lies a clever mystery storyline that revolves around the murder of the protagonist’s friend and the identity of the mysterious beneficiary of the will. Gentill crafts an excellent multi-layered mystery, with a number of surprising twists, turns and false leads on the way to the exciting conclusion. While I was able to guess a little bit in advance who the main perpetrator turned out to be, all the revelations that came out in the final confrontation were really impressive and helped wrap up the entire mystery storyline extremely well. I also thought that Gentill came up with a very compelling and memorable motivation for the various crimes featured within the book. Some of these reveals were a bit dark and shocking, but they did make for some very dramatic and captivating sequences throughout the book. Overall, I thought that this was one of the strongest mysteries to have so far been featured within one of the Rowland Sinclair books, and it served as an amazing centre to this entire fantastic book.

One of the most distinctive features of this whole series is the way that Gentill dives into the history and culture of the period in which the books are set. She has previously done a wonderful job of exploring parts of 1930s Australia, Europe and occupied Shanghai, and in A Testament of Character Gentill’s characters explore post-Depression America. This proves to be an excellent backdrop to the book’s superb story, and I loved the examination of the key cities of Boston and New York, as well as some rural areas of the country. Gentrill provides the reader with a fantastic and at times in-depth look at various parts of the 1930s American culture and society. This is done in two distinct ways, the first of which involves the protagonists exploring America as Australians, providing an outsider’s perspective of the events or places they visit (while constantly getting complemented for speaking such good English!). The second way is through Gentill’s inclusion of historical newspaper clippings at the front of every chapter. The use of these newspaper clippings is another recurring trait of the Rowland Sinclair series, and I have always enjoyed the way in which the articles relate to some cultural or historical aspect of the chapter the clipping fronts. Through the use of these methods, the author paints an intriguing picture about America during this period, which I think worked extremely well as a background to the main mystery plot. This is especially true as some of the motives and elements of the mystery revolve around the social attitudes and cultural expectations of the time, which the reader will need to have a bit of an understanding about. I have to say that I was glad that as part of this examination of historical America, Gentill also had a look at public opinion around the Nazis and fascists in the lead up to World War II, as this has been one of the more interesting story threads to follow throughout the series.

Another distinctive aspect of the Rowland Sinclair series is the way that Gentill writes a number of historical figures into the story, either as cameos or in major roles. The best previous example of this is easily the author’s inclusion of Eric Campbell and The New Guard (an ultra-right-wing Australian organisation in the 1930s) as recurring antagonists in some of the books, as these real-life historical figures are great foils to the progressive protagonists. Gentill continues to do this in A Testament of Characters, making great use of several iconic American historical figures to flesh out the story and create several memorable inclusions. Several of these historical figures have pretty major roles in the plot, including Joseph Kennedy, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife and fellow author, Zelda Fitzgerald. There are also some fun cameos from several other notable people, including Errol Flynn, a young JFK, Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst and Orson Welles, as well as several other characters who were in Boston or New York during the 1930s. There are also a ton of references to other unique figures in America during this time, including the Parker Brothers Company (Monopoly was released in 1935, and the protagonists of course end up playing a game), as well as a unique goat competition that was held in Central Park, of which Gentill of course names the winner. This is an extremely fun and amusing part of A Testament of Character, and I always enjoy seeing Gentill’s protagonists run into these real-life historical figures, especially as the author does a fantastic job examining and showcasing their personalities and motivations. I love how Gentill effortlessly works these people into the plot, and the reader is always left wondering who is going to appear next.

A Testament of Character is a superb and exciting new addition to the outstanding Rowland Sinclair series that is really worth checking out. Sulari Gentill has once again produced a fantastic mystery storyline that strongly benefits from the author’s clever dive back into 1930’s history. This results in a powerful and exhilarating novel which makes amazing use of its fun, distinctive inclusions and intriguing characters. I cannot wait to see what misadventures Rowland Sinclair and his friends get up to in their next book, and this is a truly wonderful Australian series with a real unique flair to it.

WWW Wednesday – 11 March 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

Star Wars: Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott (Audiobook)

Dooku - Jedi Lost Cover


What did you recently finish reading?

A Testament of Character, One Minute Out Covers
A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill (Trade Paperback)

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney (Audiobook)

What do you think you’ll read next?

Where Fortune Lies by Mary-Anne O’Connor (Trade Paperback)

Where Fortune Lies
That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

WWW Wednesday – 4 March 2020

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Taking on a World of Words, where bloggers share the books that they’ve recently finished, what they are currently reading and what books they are planning to read next. Essentially you have to answer three questions (the Three Ws):

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

So, let’s get to it.

What are you currently reading?

A Testament of Character, One Minute Out Covers

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill (Trade Paperback)

I started reading this one today, and I am really enjoying it so far.  This is the 10th book in the Rowland Sinclair historical murder mystery series, and it takes the book’s Australian protagonists to America in the 1930’s to investigate a suspicious death.  I am looking forward to seeing how this one turns out and this should prove to be a fantastic read.

One Minute Out by Mark Greaney (Audiobook)

I’m around halfway through this book at the moment and it is pretty incredible.  Containing a rather dark and heavy story about human trafficking, this new book from Greaney is an excellent and captivating thriller.

 

What did you recently finish reading?

False Value by Ben Aaronovitch (Trade Paperback)

False Value Cover
Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope by Una McCormack (Audiobook)

Star Trek - Picard Cover
The Holdout by Graham Moore (Audiobook)

The Holdout Cover


Amnesty
by Aravind Adiga (Trade Paperback)

Amnesty Cover
Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies (Trade Paperback)

Black Leviathan Cover
What do you think you’ll read next?

Where Fortune Lies by Mary-Anne O’Connor (Trade Paperback)

Where Fortune Lies
That’s it for this week, check back in next Wednesday to see what progress I’ve made on my reading and what books I’ll be looking at next.

Book Haul – 3 March 2020

It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve done a Book Haul post, and in that time I’ve gotten a few amazing novels that I am looking forward to reading.  As I have already read one of the books on this list and I am planning to start getting through another one tomorrow, I thought that this would be a good time to highlight them in a Book Haul post.  So sit back and check out the awesome swag I’ve been lucky enough to receive.

A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill

A Testament of Character Cover

This first book in this post is A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill, the tenth book in the long-running Rowland Sinclair series.  Now I am definitely not putting this book first because it quotes one of my old reviews from The Canberra Times on the back cover (see below), but because it is part of a really enjoyable series of Australian historical crime fiction books.  The Rowland Sinclair series has been a real highlight of my reading calendar each year and I am going to start reading this book next.

A Testament of Character Back Cover

Black Leviathan by Bernd Perplies

Black Leviathan Cover

This is an awesome fantasy novel that is essentially Moby Dick with dragons.  I have actually just finished this one off in the last couple of hours and I will hopefully get a review written up for it soon.  It was really good though, and I had a fantastic time reading it.

The Deceptions by Suzanne Leal

The Deceptions

An Australian historical fiction novel partially set in the Jewish ghetto of Theresienstadt.  This will no doubt be a  heavy and compelling novel and I am curious to see what sort of story Leal writes.

Red Dirt Country by Fleur McDonald

Red Dirt Country Cover

This is a rural crime novel set in outback Australia.  I have heard good things about McDonald’s books in the past and I am looking forward to reading this unique piece of fiction.

A User’s Guide to Make-Believe by Jane Alexander

A User's Guide to Make Believe Cover

A captivating thriller that appears to follow someone stuck in a virtual reality.  There have been some great technology based thrillers out lately and I am looking forward to seeing what happens in this one.

Hitler’s Secret by Rory Clements

Hitler's Secret Cover

This is the fourth book in Clements’ Tom Wilde series of historical thrillers.  I have really enjoyed these books over the last couple of years and have read and reviewed all three prior novels, including Nucleus and NemesisHitler’s Secret sounds like it is going to be the most exciting one yet, and I am hoping to read it very soon.

 

Well that concludes my latest book haul post.  Let me know which of the above books sounds the most interesting to you and I will try to read and review them as soon as possible.