Review: PAVING THE NEW ROAD by Sulari Gentill

It is 1933 and Australian politician Eric Campbell is touring Europe with the aim of making alliances with prominent fascists. He is especially keen to meet with Adolf Hitler. Campbell’s opponents in Australia dispatched a man to Germany to thwart Campbell’s plans but that man has died and, rather desperately, they turn to playboy Rowland ‘Rowly’ Sinclair to take over the subversive campaign. Sinclair has tangled with Campbell in the past, in an adventure depicted in the first book of this series, A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN, and needs little persuading to take on the dangerous role of spy. It will not be a surprise to fans of the series that Rowly’s friends, fellow artists Edna and Clyde and poet Milton, decide to accompany him. In addition to trying to prevent Campbell from meeting Hitler or otherwise succeeding in strengthening his links to European fascism the group from Sydney feel compelled to look into the death of the man who preceded Rowly as the one with responsibility for foiling Campbell’s plans.

I imagine any author would be wary of setting a tale that is light in tone against the backdrop of one of the darkest times in world history but Gentill has met the challenge with great success. There is the usual fun, decadence and near-death adventures that readers of the series  have come to expect, starting with quick (only 14 days!) flight to Europe thanks to Australian aviation hero Charles Kingsford Smith but the tough issues are not ignored. The increasingly extreme behaviour of the Nazis is depicted sensitively and with intelligence, while taking the opportunity to remind readers that there were real heroes who stood up to the Nazis in amazing ways. Some of these are the creation of Gentill’s imagination and some, like journalist Nancy Wake (who became a British Agent during WWII) are real-life characters making cameo appearances in Gentill’s fictional world.

it is this ability to combine real and imaginary people seamlessly and credibly into her stories that make Gentill’s books stand out from the pack for me and I think PAVING THE NEW ROAD might be the most successful of the series in this regard. From the seemingly minor (but completely engaging) presence of designer Hugo Boss, competing with another tailor who befriends Rowly and the gang for contracts to make the various Nazi uniforms, to the more substantial roles played by Wake and the girlfriend of a prominent Nazi Party member the real figures help make the story a very believable one. One of the things I love about Sulari Gentill’s writing is that she never takes the easy route and so rather than stuffing the book with bad guys we’ve all met before she chose to include some truly startling lesser known figures. The inclusion, for example, of the British woman who stalked Adolf Hitler in the belief they were destined to be together, was inspired.

The mystery here becomes a relatively minor part of the plot which might offend the die-hard crime fiction fans but there is so much else going on I think only really churlish readers would complain. There’s one of the world’s first long-haul passenger flights, a book-burning at which Rowly and the gang put their lives in real danger, several encounters with sinister members of the Nazi Party and the book-long attempt to prevent Eric Campbell (another real life figure) from successfully brining extreme fascism home to Australia. As always there are light moments too, such as the purchasing of a series of expensive experimental art works which are sent home to the ultra-conservative funders of the spying mission (Rowly and company pose as art dealers to explain their presence in Germany) and some grand parties for the group to attend. And in the end the mystery that started the book is resolved with a clever surprise.

I’m not normally a big fan of blurbs which combine two random authors to describe what a book’s content might be like but the ‘Evelyn Waugh meets Agatha Christie‘ tag adorning this book’s front cover is pretty accurate, at least giving readers a sense of the kinds of characters and storyline they might encounter within the pages. PAVING THE NEW ROAD is a superb example of the historical crime genre, with wonderful characters, a truly suspenseful story and an enveloping sense of time and place. It is highly recommended.


PAVING THE NEW ROAD is released officially tomorrow (1 August) in Australia and should be available from your local independent bookstore. It is also available in eBook format from Amazon and the iBook store (though I suspect that this availability does not extend to non-Australian readers)

I’ve reviewed the three earlier books in this series A FEW RIGHT THINKING MENA DECLINE IN PROPHETS and MILES OFF COURSE.

We also subjected Sulari to our baker’s dozen questions during Australian authors month last year.

This is the ninth book I have read for the Australian Women Writers reading challenge.


My rating: 4.5/5 stars (rating scale is explained here)
Author website: http://www.sularigentill.com/
Publisher: Pantera Press [2012]
ISBN: 9781921997075
Length: 405 pages
Format: Trade Paperback
Source: provided by the publisher for review
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://fairdinkumcrime.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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The 2012 Davitt Awards are just around the corner

The Davitt Awards are sponsored by Sisters in Crime Australia and are named in honour of Ellen Davitt who wrote Australia’s first mystery novel, FORCE AND FRAUD in 1865. Voting is now open for the 13th annual awards for the best crime books by Australian women published in Australia in 2011 and there are 49 books competing in five categories:

  • the best adult novel
  • the best children’s / young adult novel
  • the best true crime
  • best debut (any category)
  • and the Reader’s Choice award (voted by members of Sisters in Crime and can be from any category)

Here at Fair Dinkum Crime we really only read novels in the first category, for which the eligible titles this year are

  • Sydney Bauer, THE 3RD VICTIM
  • A.A. Bell, HINDSIGHT
  • Claire Corbett, WHEN WE HAVE WINGS
  • Sandy Curtis, FATAL FLAW
  • Miranda Darling, THE SIREN’S SONG
  • Virginia Duigan, THE PRECIPICE
  • Y A Erskine, THE BROTHERHOOD
  • Helen Fitzgerald, THE DONOR
  • Jaye Ford, BEYOND FEAR
  • Sulari Gentill, A DECLINE IN PROPHETS
  • Carol Gibson, CLICK CLICK, YOU’RE DEAD
  • H.M. Goltz, DEATH BY SUGAR
  • Kerry Greenwood, COOKING THE BOOKS
  • Judy Johnson, THE SECRET FATE OF MARY WATSON
  • Sylvia Johnson, WATCH OUT FOR ME
  • Adriana Koulias, THE SIXTH KEY
  • Phyllis King, ed., SCARLET STILETTO: THE SECOND CUT [Readers Choice vote by SinC members only]
  • Carolyn Morwood, DEATH AND THE SPANISH LADY
  • Jennifer Rowe, LOVE HONOUR & O’BRIEN
  • Kim Westwood, THE COURIER’S NEW BICYCLE
  • Nicole Watson, THE BOUNDARY
  • Helene Young, SHATTERED SKY
  • Tracey O’Hara, DEATH’S SWEET EMBRACE

Links are to the 9 reviews I’ve posted of the 23 eligible titles. As a member of Sisters in Crime I’m eligible to vote for the Reader’s Choice category for which voting closes on 1 August. I’m probably not going to finish any more of the eligible books by then so my vote will be going to the book I fell in love with earlier this year. It’s a very close run thing though as there are several more titles in that list which I think are outstanding and none of the ones I read is a dud. So in my humble opinion crime writing by Australian women is in darned good shape.

The Awards will all be presented on 1 September and I won’t be able to attend but will hopefully be able to follow along on twitter as I did last year.

Review: Blackwattle Creek by Geoffrey McGeachin

It’s September 1957 in Melbourne and Detective Sergeant Charlie Berlin has been, somewhat grudgingly, given a week’s leave from his job investigating the worst of the city’s missing persons cases. Looking forward to building a dark room for his wife, Rebecca, in their back yard Charlie thinks nothing of first talking to a friend of Rebecca’s who noticed some peculiar behaviour by the undertaker when organising her husband’s recent funeral. A combination of conscientiousness and curiosity prompts Charlie to visit the funeral home where he learns some things that trouble him. When his seemingly innocent questions result in one of his few friends being beaten up, Charlie feels unable to let the matter drop.

It’s quite brave of an author to set their second book in a series more than 10 years in time from the first. Keep up that gap period and the series will be a short one indeed by today’s standards. But it’s an excellent way to allow the central characters to display genuine personal growth between books and McGeachin made full use of the gap for that purpose. The series’ protagonist is still a policeman, still something of a loner professionally and still haunted (literally) by his wartime experiences as a RAF pilot then POW. But now he has a much-loved family, his nightmares are less frequent and he has a greater control on his behavioural excesses. With reasons to live he is an even more engaging and interesting man than when we first met him in THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL when he was not long back from the war. His attitude and approach to life has a very authentic feel to me and not only because in it I recognise traits of my father’s, like the way he can’t always put into words how much he loves his family but shows it in wonderfully practical ways like carefully shining all their shoes with polish and brushes each week (the scene in which this is depicted brought back vivid memories of my own family’s shoes being lined up for weekly polishing every Sunday night).

His wife is a strong character too, willing and ready to support and nourish Charlie when needed but there’s no hint of downtrodden housewife in Rebecca as she forges her own career and takes charge of the couple’s love life. Minor characters are nicely drawn too including a Hungarian journalist-turned-hearse driver (who is one of the good guys) and a poncey British doctor (who isn’t).

McGeachin has excelled at drawing out the small details of life that depict a time and place to perfection and I had no trouble picturing the edge-of suburbia setting of Charlie’s home, the sinister institution where nefarious activities were taking place or the inner city streets of Melbourne alive with a post-war (and post-1956 Olympics) mish-mash of cultures as immigration made its presence felt. Even the political environment of the time gets the same deft treatment as McGeachin shows us that it’s not only in the current day that governments are prepared to keep the masses in the dark ostensibly for our own good. In an odd way I found it kind of comforting to think that we probably have been through the same kinds of things as we’re experiencing now and managed to pull through with at least a shred of collective humanity and backbone intact. Perhaps there is hope after all.

Finally, though in some ways most importantly, Blackwattle Creek is a ripper of a yarn. I had no idea where the story was going to take me and needing to know kept me up late into the night. For a crime fiction author to be able to generate in me the same sense of shock as was being experienced by the book’s protagonist as he uncovered the frightening (and frighteningly credible) facts of the case is a fairly rare thing these days and I revelled in it. Although I thoroughly enjoyed this book’s predecessor I think BLACKWATTLE CREEK is an even better book and one I can’t recommend highly enough.


My review of McGeachin’s first book in this series, THE DIGGERS REST HOTEL


My rating: 4.5/5
Publisher: Penguin [2012]
ISBN: 9780670075881
Length: 282 pages
Format: trade paperback
Source: I bought it

Updates…New Releases…Links (or all the things we’ve missed in recent weeks)

Things have been almost deathly silent here at Fair Dinkum HQ of late and for that I apologise. But I was moving house (and am still living in the semi-chaos of ongoing renovations) and Kerrie was gallivanting about the world on holidays so Aussie crime fiction had to take a back seat for a bit. But we’re almost back to full speed now and are gearing up for some more great reading. I have moved to a house that is a 3 minute walk away from one of Adelaide’s last remaining independent bookstores and so should have no excuse for not keeping up with my Aussie crime fiction from now on.

Recent and Upcoming Releases

June/July

  • Adrian d’Hage – THE INCA PROPHECY
  • Kathryn Fox – COLD GRAVE (Forensic physician Dr Anya Crichton is taking a break aboard a luxury cruise ship when the body of a teenage girl is discovered shoved in a cupboard, dripping wet)
  • Geoffrey McGeachin – BLACKWATTLE CREEK (the second Charlie Berlin book and the first of what I expect will be many books I bought after moving into a house 3 minutes walk from a book shop)

August

  • Sulari Gentill – PAVING THE NEW ROAD (a second Rowly Sinclair book for 2012 and one we have already received here at Fair Dinkum HQ, I intend to sit down with it very shortly)
  • Stuart Littlemore – Harry Curry: The Murder Book
  • Barry Maitland – ALL MY ENEMIES (Brock & Kolla #12)
  • Michael Robotham – SAY YOU’RE SORRY (a Joe O’Loughlin novel)

September

  • Courtney Collins – THE BURIAL (Inspired by the life of Jessie Hickman, the legendary horse thief and murderess of the 1920s, The Burial powerfully evokes the imagined life of a 22 year old bushranger whose real crime, it seems, was to have been born a woman)
  • Gabrielle Lord – DEATH BY BEAUTY
  • Tara Moss – ASSASSIN

October

  • Kerry Greenwood – UNNATURAL HABITS (Phryne Fisher #19)

Aussie Crime Fiction in the news and blogosphere

In case you missed it the longlist for this year’s 2012 Ned Kelly Awards has been announced. As always there’s no information available at the online home of the awards about the shortlising criteria or timelines for the various stages of the process but we’ll try to keep abreast of things as best we can (and no I’m not going to have another rant about this topic) (promise).

In what seems to be coming a regular feature (well I hope so anyway) Angela Savage discussed two new release crime novels from Aussie authors on the ABC’s Books and Arts Daily radio show. The audio is available here for anyone who wants to hear the discussion on YA Erskine’s second novel THE BETRAYAL and Annie Hauxwell‘s debut IN HER BLOOD.

At Book’d Out Shelleyrae has been churning through Australian crime fiction (as well as all her other reading because apparently superwoman is hiding in semi-rural Australia) and has included Aussie women crime writers in her features for the Australian Women Writers challenge, She has reviewed Malla Nunn‘s LET THE DEAD LIE and SILENT VALLEY then had a chat with Malla that you can listen to then reviewed  Y.A. Erskine‘s THE BETRAYAL and interviewed the author about the secret behind the book and has also reviewed Helene Young’s romantic suspense novel BURNING LIES just this week.

Aust Crime Fiction has also been busily reviewing Aussie crime fiction including Malla Nunn‘s SILENT VALLEY, Annie Hauxwell‘s IN HER BLOOD, Geoffrey McGeachin‘s BLACKWATTLE CREEK and Sulari Gentill‘s PAVE THE NEW ROAD