Michelle's Reviews > A Few Right Thinking Men

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill
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Aug 20, 11

bookshelves: full-review, reviewed, favorites, historical-fiction
Read from August 08 to 19, 2011

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A Few Right Thinking Men is the absorbing debut novel by Australian author Sulari Gentill. Published in 2010 by Pantera Press, this intriguing historical mystery is definitely well worth a read and I must admit that Gentill is rapidly becoming one of my favourite Australian authors.

It’s Sydney 1931 and Australia is in the midst of the Great Depression. While the wealthy upper classes do their best to maintain their lavish lifestyles, unemployed line the streets and unrest brews in all levels of society. In the face of their hardships many citizens seek political reformation and look to the communist party for a solution to their troubles. Rising tensions allow radical factions from both sides of the political spectrum to gain power and there are whispers of revolution and civil war. Sheltered from the effects of the economic crisis by his inherited wealth, Rowland Sinclair tries not to get embroiled in politics despite the numerous entreaties of both family and friends. While his brother decries the threat of the ‘Red menace’ and many within his social circle have communist sympathies, Rowland prefers to spend his days indulging his artistic passions with his friends and house-guests. Nevertheless, a brutal crime will draw Rowland into a dangerous and unfamiliar world of communists, fascists, suspicion, secrets and murder.

A character driven historical fiction with a mystery at its heart

I must admit that it’s been a while since I’ve read a decent mystery novel. It’s not that I dislike the genre, just that my tastes are skewed elsewhere so I don’t often get around to reading any. In any case, I would consider A Few Right Thinking Men to be more of a character driven historical with elements of crime and a mystery driving the plot than a conventional crime/mystery novel. The mystery plot is well realised and interesting but I found the characters and setting to be the true highlights of the novel. I couldn’t help but fall in love with the believable yet slightly eccentric characters and found myself drawn into an interesting period in Australian history that I’d never truly explored before.

Pariahs and patriots

A Few Right Thinking Men is rich in historical detail, and allows you to get a real ‘feel’ for the era. Gentill achieves this without resorting to the kind of excessive ‘information drops’ that can make some historical fiction seem like it’s been taken straight from the pages of a secondary school text book. The Depression era atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia is captured in all its insane glory. Patriotism is the order of the day, good citizens check their closets nightly for spying communists and German model cars are frowned upon. I’m ashamed to say that in the past I’ve only had a very cursory interest in the history of the Great Depression. I knew it was an important part of Australian history that I should know about, it just seemed a little…depressing. However, after reading this novel I find myself viewing this era in a different light and feel much more inclined to research it further.

Characters you can’t help but love

As I mentioned, I found the characters very endearing and easy to relate to. I especially liked the protagonist, Rowland Sinclair, and his house-guests; fellow artist Clyde, the flamboyant aesthete Milton and the free-spirited sculptress Edna. All have their own distinctive personalities and roles to play. The secondary characters, both historical and fictional, are also well developed and interesting. Even those who I felt less sympathetic towards had both good and bad aspects and never felt like clichéd villains. The novel was also well written, the prose flowing and the pace well maintained. I found the dialogue quite witty, with some genuine laugh out loud moments, and overall I thought the novel maintained a refreshing balance between drama and humour.

Some readers may find the ending slightly anticlimactic. Nevertheless, I thought it suited the rest of the story well and set the scene for the next novel A Decline in Prophets quite nicely. I would certainly recommend A Few Right Thinking Men to any fans of historical fiction or mystery and consider Sulari Gentill a definite name to watch in the future. Furthermore, I would further urge readers with any interest in Australian or Depression era history to pick up this novel as soon as possible. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it as much as I did.
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