While I am a month behind on reviewing this here, know that I have been verbally reviewing this to anyone who has come within a five-metre radius of me at work who has requested my opinion. (In previous bookstores, offering advice about what to read was how I spent the majority of my time; at my current job, it seems all the customers are far too independent to want to know what I can offer. It’s like they’ve grown up, and I’m still a mourning parent who wants their kids to ask them for help again. So when someone asks my opinion, I essentially become an attack dog of information.)
This is Gentill’s fifth Rowland Sinclair book, and the first I’ve read. While coming to the series later means I’ve missed some entertaining-sounding past capers that are commented on during the book, nothing that is necessary goes unstated, and if anything, this fabulous book has just made me want to go back and read everything. Rowly, an Australian who has just spent part of 1933 being tortured in Germany, escapes to London, ally to Australia and his ancestral homeland. With his arm still broken from his attack, he gathers all of his considerable wits and money, deposits himself and his bohemian sidekicks in a swish hotel, then decides to use his aristocratic background to gain audience with someone who will listen to his story and heed his warning about Hitler really, seriously not being a great guy. Upon opening the door to his first meeting, said contact is found skewered to his bed with a sword and in a state of dress not generally seen on men of his calibre in public. Such shenanigans embarrass the police sufficiently that they do not feel compelled to spend a large amount of time investigating; thus, Rowland and his cohorts now have two things on their to-do list: warn of impending danger, solve crime. Put this on your list: read this book.
I enjoyed this so immensely that I read parts out to my partner, laughed out loud, did some vocal cheering and always put it down with a smile on my face. It’s not that it’s exclusively light-hearted – fascism and murder isn’t an endlessly pleasant topic – but the characters, from Rowly’s artistically inclined inner circle (from poets to sculptors, and progressive to fuddy-duddy, but all loyal and clever) to those he encounters along the way (from friendly strangers to cameo appearances by such folk as HG Wells), just enliven the book completely. There is a brawl with fascists using some interesting props, and an incident at a train station that caused a fainting epidemic and had me in stitches. There are set pieces and characters I’d love to revisit. As it is, one reading has left me entirely happy for now, and the delight in this book should be shared. Good for young(ish, I mean there is scandal) and old (my grandmother would have been thrilled with all the good manners the roguish Rowly knows, and that he bumps into members of the monarchy), it’s a good present for about everyone you know, including yourself.