Give the Devil His Due: A Rowland Sinclair Mystery

Written by Sulari Gentill
Review by Marina Maxwell

This is the seventh book in 1930s Australian mystery series featuring wealthy man-about-town Rowland Sinclair and his artistic friends, Edna Higgins, Clyde Walton Jones and Milton Isaacs.

Journalist Crispin White interviews Rowland at his palatial mansion about his upcoming participation in a motor race for the “Lucky Devil” cup. Within hours, White is found dead at a waxworks museum, his throat slashed. Milton is the likely suspect as he had issues with White and is the last person to see him alive. After an English Blackshirt aristocrat is killed during a practice race and someone tries to shoot Rowland, things start getting edgy.

There is a lot more going on here than murder: there’s the ambitious rookie journalist interested in the occult, Clyde’s romance with an Italian girl who has an angry father, skulduggery with fascist and communist organisations, and the underworld of illegal bookmaking. Many real-life Australians litter the pages, including scandalous artist Norman Lindsay, poet-journalist Kenneth Slessor and dashing young actor, Errol Flynn. Even eccentric recluse Arthur Stace, who wrote “Eternity” in chalk on Sydney pavements, pops up.

This 1930s Sydney is vibrant and authentic, and the inclusion of a relevant newspaper cutting at the beginning of each chapter is a neat touch, but there are the usual problems for any reviewer coming late to a series such as this. Without knowledge of the back stories and the nature of Rowland’s personal relationships, these must be guessed at; ditto references to his previous adventures, including a recent trip to Germany and his arrest for some unspecified crime. Thus it almost goes without saying that in order to get the best value out of this highly original series with its quirky characters, it is recommended that readers seek out the earlier titles and follow them in sequence.