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A Decline in Prophets: A Rowland Sinclair Novel


A Decline in Prophets: A Rowland Sinclair Novel

Award-winning Australian writer Sulari Gentill has gathered a beguiling and congenial cast of characters who are sailing on the luxury Cunard liner, the RMS Aquitania, on a world cruise. The setting is the early 1930s as the forces of communism, fascism and Hitler’s rise to power loom over the Continent. The Great Depression spreads across the world, heralding a frightening time in our history. We find our party on the next-to-last leg of their eventful trip that started in Australia and continued on to Egypt and the Continent. The cruise takes a deadly turn as it approaches New York.

Painter Rowland Sinclair, heir to a vast Australian sheep ranching fortune, has reserved three luxurious conjoined suites for his close companions. We meet Milton, an ersatz poet; Clyde, a fellow artist; and Edna, a glamorous sculptress and model for Sinclair’s famous nude portraits. Their dining room seating arrangement includes the real-life, controversial mystic and Theosophist Annie Besant and holy man Jiddu Krishnamurti. Among their fellow passengers are a fiery Catholic bishop and his group of seminarians, who view the otherworldly Theosophists and the libertine artists with equal acrimony. Mix in two merry young widows out for a good time, and you have the three deadly sins of polite dinner table conversation: religion, politics and sex. Gentill mixes them all in a tasty package of murder, suspense and delight, blending real events and people with her colorful characters. This is more than a mere cozy.

"What is more satisfying to the mystery buff than a new author with a backlist? Here’s hoping that Poisoned Pen will publish the remaining books in the series."

When murder strikes the liner with no clear clues as to a motive or a suspect, Rowland is eyed with suspicion after he has an altercation with a drunken passenger who is harassing one of the merry widows. The dastardly fellow is later found bludgeoned to death in a lifeboat with Rowland’s bloodied walking stick protruding from his neck. Once exonerated, Rowland would much prefer retiring to his suites to paint and relax with his friends, but when a suspicious suicide on board occurs and then the elderly Madame Besant is pushed down a staircase, Rowland finds himself playing the reluctant detective. Upon reaching New York, two more fellow passengers are murdered, and the plot thickens.

When Rowland and his friends finally arrive back in Sydney, he clashes with his conservative brother’s wishes to involve him in more active management of the ranch. Here the characters are delightfully rounded out as you see the liberal artist and his Bohemian friends trying to deal with the Fellows of the local Masonic order.

A DECLINE IN PROPHETS is the second installment in an eight-novel set of a previously published series in Australia. It landed stateside due to the foresight of Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Press, a Scottsdale publishing house that is keeping alive the rapidly vanishing concept of the small, local specialty bookstore and bringing to print books from around the world to the American public. A DECLINE IN PROPHETS was so compelling that I immediately downloaded to my Kindle the series opener, A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN, to learn the backstory.

What is more satisfying to the mystery buff than a new author with a backlist? Here’s hoping that Poisoned Pen will publish the remaining books in the series. It has been my good fortune to stumble onto a few of these, thanks to, this past season. As my old favorites started farming out their novels to offspring, or resorting to pseudonyms or, I darkly suspect, ghostwriters, I welcomed the newcomers. Long live the rapidly vanishing small presses and bookstores. I’ve turned to electronic sources for some of these gems, which I am grateful to have at my fingertips. Oh, the instant gratification of pushing a button and an eBook lands in your hand late at night! It’s the second most fun you can have in bed, right? It’s encouraging that small presses like Poisoned Pen are still slugging away to introduce us to new writers.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 16, 2016

A Decline in Prophets: A Rowland Sinclair Novel
by Sulari Gentill