A Dangerous Language by Sulari Gentill

About halfway through this book, I had to put it down – for something trivial like sleep, or dinner, or spending time with my family – and saw a review on the cover comparing Gentill to Evelyn Waugh. This holds some truth – there are a lot of ridiculously wealthy young people having far too much fun spending the early decades of the twentieth century getting into salacious situations, drinking heavily and offending their elders, while the ramifications of the war bear heavily on them. Yet, as someone who had to literally put down Brideshead Revisited because I found it so frustratingly meandering (and, this may shock you, but I generally love meandering writing), I couldn’t help but think that unlike Waugh, Gentill – on her eighth Rowland Sinclair book now – has a lightness of touch and a clarity to her plot that appeals much more than Waugh, at least to the likes of me.

When I wasn’t reading A Dangerous Language, I thought about it – wondered who the killers were, hazarded a guess or two about which characters in the book were based on real characters (delightfully, a vast amount). It is always a pleasure to follow Rowland Sinclair, a wayward grown child of the eminent Sinclair family of New South Wales, as he and his band of scandalous artist friends do their best to become immediately involved in a crisis every time they leave his estate.

Here, it’s 1934, and the international activist and journalist Egon Kisch is coming to Melbourne – unless the rising tide of fascism stops him from disembarking the ship he’s arriving on. Rowly is roped in by the Communist community his friends are part of to assist Kisch’s arrival, and will do all he can to get this man (who once saved his life) into Australia. Because, by God, he needs someone to spread the word of impending Nazism – something Rowly has been trying to convince the authorities of, with little success.

Combine this with an international air-race, a murder on the steps of Parliament House, withered relations between Rowland and his long-suffering stick of a brother Wilfred, the seductive reappearance of an adolescent lover, and a solid sprinkling of fisticuffs, and you have the ingredients for a story told in a most satisfying language indeed.

Fiona Hardy is our monthly crime fiction columnist, and also blogs about crime fiction at readingkills.com.

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A Dangerous Language

A Dangerous Language

Sulari Gentill

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