In her Rowland Sinclair novels, Sulari Gentill has used crime fiction to explore the rise of fascism in Australia and across the world in the early 1930s. In previous books, Sinclair has tackled the rising fascist threat in Australia head on and, in a recent outing, Sinclair and his band of artists and misfits found themselves in Germany as Hitler is consolidating his power. In this context, A Murder Unmentioned represents a pause as Sinclair deals with matters closer to home.
In 1920, when he was 15, Roland Sinclair’s domineering and violent father Henry was shot and killed in his study. The authorities had long believed that the shooting was part of a robbery. But when the murder weapon and the stolen items are discovered in a dredged dam on the Sinclair property, and a witness comes forward, police attention turns back to Roland. Roland’s older brother Wilfred is well connected politically and tries to manage the situation but so are Roland’s enemies and when the witness turns up dead Roland is directly in the frame.
Roland comes from money. His family property in Yass pays for his lifestyle in a mansion in Sydney’s Woollahra. But he has never been interested in the family business, preferring, instead to sketch, paint and spend time with his artistic and communist friends. When Roland’s friends come out to Yass to support him these two worlds collide. Gentill effectively illuminates the social divisions and prejudices of the time both through Roland’s family’s reaction to his friends and their relationship with the staff and stockmen.
As with the other Sinclair novels, Gentill populates her novel with real people from the time. Charles Kingsford Smith and Nancy Bird Walton make a brief appearance early in the novel as Rowland tests out his new plane. Edna Walling, one of Australia’s greatest landscape architects, is also on hand, having discovered the murder weapon while redeveloping the gardens on the Sinclair property. Then deputy premier of Victoria, Robert Menzies gets a vital cameo due to his connection to the events surrounding Henry Sinclair’s death.
A Murder Unmentioned is the sixth Roland Sinclair novel. While some familiarity with the previous books would be helpful, the focus on the Sinclair family and their troubles means that this entry easily stands alone. While there is danger, it never quite feels as intense as it should - it always seems as if the characters are going to pause for a gin and tonic. And there is plenty of mystery, but and the solution to the main mystery is fairly obvious from early on and the twists and their resolution are fairly predictable. But the fun of this novel is getting there, in following the continuing exploits of Sinclair and his band slightly anachronistic but engaging friends, and in Gentill’s exploration of the Australia of the early 1930s, particularly the influence of fascism.