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Gentlemen Formerly Dressed by Sulari Gentill

Gentlemen Formerly Dressed

by Sulari Gentill

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The fifth book in the Rowland Sinclair series where the well-to-do artist and his friends have just escaped from Nazi Germany to prewar England.
Rowland's brother happens to be visiting for an economic conference and wants him to return to Australia, but before Rowland goes back, he wants to try and alert government people to the dangers presented by the Germany.
In the meantime, he becomes involved in looking into the murder of an important Briton who is discovered in a very embarrassing scenario, annoys the British Fascists and gets involved with a group of very peculiar Brits.
As usual, Rowland behaves in very foolish way a number of times and puts himself into danger quite unnecessarily. ( )
  quiBee | Jan 21, 2016 |
Never having read any books by this author before, I didn't know what to expect. This is not my usual genre, but was given to me by a friend. I must say that I think I will now go and look out the other titles in the Rowland Sinclair series. He reminded me a little of Lord Peter Wimsey, a character in Dorothy L. Sayers books. Rowland Sinclair is Australian, the time is the 1930's in the lead up to WW11, and everyone is here, from the Prince of Wales, Winston Churchill, Oswald Mosley, H.G. Wells even Wallis Simpson and Unity Mitford get a mention. ( )
  Fliss88 | Jan 6, 2014 |
I read for lots of reasons. For fun. To learn. To pass the time. To avoid chores. Because it makes me feel…however intangibly and inexplicably…better. Few books manage to let me tick all those boxes at once but Sulari Gentill’s gently humorous historical adventures featuring Rowly Sinclair and his pals have, for me, come to epitomize what makes reading the very best pastime a girl can have.

The fifth installment of the series, GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED follows on immediately from the events depicted in PAVING THE NEW ROAD. Our heroes have escaped early 1930′s Germany with bodies and souls (mostly) intact and are in London. Rowland Sinclair, youngest son of a wealthy Australian family, is keen to ensure that what he and his friends learned about the activities of the Nazis in Germany is relayed to people in power but, even with the connections offered by his politically active older brother, struggles to find anyone who will listen to his dire warnings. Before he can make much headway with his mission Rowly and his staunch friends, Edna, Clyde and Milton, are soon embroiled in investigating a bizarre murder that has even the English aristocracy, no strangers to bizarre goings-on, raising a collective eyebrow.

I’m not sure I can explain exactly what it is that sets this series apart for me but I’ll make an attempt.

I adore the almost immediate sense of being transported to the time and place of Gentill’s creation where her historical research is skilfully entwined with elements from her imagination. Was Evelyn Waugh really the pompous pratt portrayed here? Was there such a blatant attempt to make it seem as though Wallis Simpson’s affair with English nobility wasn’t with a Royal? Was the 1933 London Economic Conference really such a balls-up? Was there ever a point at which Hitler might have been stopped before he wrought his tragedy upon the world? Without ever straying into a lecturing tone the book guarantees the reader will feel smarter by the end, even if you don’t have a list of topics to google research as I did.

I suppose it doesn’t hurt that I am more than a little in love with Rowly and his three friends (in a purely platonic way of course). Yes they are extraordinarily lucky in a way that only people in fiction can truly be. But they do all know it and they share their good fortune willingly and with joy. They love life, and each other and they never miss an opportunity to help someone less fortunate than themselves, regardless of any risk to their personal safety and without passing judgement of any kind on their fellow humans. I know that grit and gangsters are all the rage in crime fiction these days, but I cannot help but long for a bit more good, old-fashioned courage and decency in both my real and fictional worlds.

There is also a romping story, fantastic dialogue, a tantalizing dose of unresolved sexual tension and a mildly absurd humour to this book. How can one not delight in the imagery of four well-dressed young people carrying around and talking to the wax head of an English Lord for half a book? Or attacking fascists being beaten away with the limbs from tailors’ mannequins?

Google research attributes to Aristotle the quote that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED is just a little bit more wonderful than all its excellent elements would lead you to believe it might be. Like its central hero it is audaciously optimistic, unashamedly well-intentioned and superb fun. Read it. You’ll feel better.
  bsquaredinoz | Dec 24, 2013 |
The Rowland Sinclair series is up to book number five with the release of GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED, yet somehow it feels like there should be more of them. That could simply be wishful thinking.

There is much to be admired about these books. The plots are clever and believable. Whilst the subject matter can be sobering, it's delivered with a light touch, drawing out the amusing where appropriate. There is a very strong sense of place, and the time period in which the action occurs. In the case of GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED and the previous book PAVING THE NEW ROAD that is Europe in the Great Depression, with the rise of the Nazi's in Germany as the backdrop. In PAVING THE NEW ROAD, Rowly and his group had a frighteningly close encounter with the extremes of Fascism in Germany, the aftermath of which now plays itself out in England in GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED. As a side note, picking up the earlier books in any order would work just fine, but these two they really should be read in sequence.

All of the main characters are here - Edna Higgins, sculptress, love interest, deflector of royal attentions. 'Milton' Elias Isaacs, would be poet, reader and oft quoter of others, is fierce when fierce is required, and somewhat befuddled when confronted with a community of English eccentrics with more elaborate tastes in clothing than he. Clyde Watson Jones, fellow painter, the most down to earth member of Rowly's associates, willing to put his body on the line when the Blackshirts weigh in. Rowly's brother Wilfred, wife and boys are also in town, Wilfred ostensibly to attend the London Economic Conference. Providing a perfect way of introducing some well-known figures from history, and a starring role for the wife of an Australian ex-Prime Minister.

Some elements remain consistent throughout all of these books, Wilfred's swings between feeling protective towards his younger brother, and clearly fighting back a desire to strangle him. Rowly's love for Edna, kept in reserve by his concern at losing her friendship instead. Milton's quoting of other's poetic snippets. All of which adds up not to a sense of been there / done that, but a real connection with this group. Like time spent with good friends.

Gentill's storytelling ability is, as always, on display in GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED. Deftly combining the extremes of Fascism, and the cloud of the Great Depression with disquiet at the ease in which a couple of Communist Australian's can accept the services of a butler is not, one would assume, a skill that comes easily to many. It does to Gentill, as does her observational humour. The complications of tie's being knotted, the comedy inherent in a wax head in a hatbox, the rabbit in headlights effect of a full set of cutlery at a formal dinner. All the while building a clever murder plot, with Rowly and his team determined to right wrongs for the dis-empowered in a world where money and titles can influence outcomes.

Even if you think you're not a fan of historical crime, this is a series so well done it could change your mind. Even if you're not a fan of crime, then this is a series that is so elegantly done it could change your mind. This is a series that I've used to convince non-readers to change their minds.

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/gentlemen-formerly-dressed-sulari-gentill ( )
  austcrimefiction | Oct 25, 2013 |
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After narrowly escaping Nazi terror, Rowland Sinclair and his companions land in London, believing they are safe. But they are wrong. A bizarre murder plunges the hapless Australians into a queer world of British aristocracy, Fascist Blackshirts, illicit love, scandal and spies. A world where gentlemen are not always what they are dressed up to be.… (more)

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