Friday 28 November 2014

A Gentle Crime Wave Hits Sydney & AusReading Month

I picked up The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender by Marele Day because it recently appeared on the new HSC discovery-themed prescribed texts list.

It was first published in 1988, with three follow up books in 1990,1992 & 1994.They all featured private eye, Claudia Valentine, affectionately described as "Sam Spade in a frock"!
Day also pays homage to Raymond Chandler throughout the book.

Sydney and the Inner West suburbs feature strongly.

Part of the fun for me was picking which suburb & seeing well-known haunts through a lens now 20 years gone. It was lovely to be reminded of the old Glebe Island Bridge (now replaced by the ANZAC Bridge), seeing Darling Harbour all gritty & grimy prior to its makeover & laughing as Claudia cursed the new Monorail (recently pulled down again)!

We wound through Pyrmont, then suddenly; the city. The tall blocks of buildings, the centre pole of Sydney Tower that dazzled the city with fool's gold at sunset but was somewhat sallow at this time of day. Not quite the metropolis of New York but still it took your breath away, so much of it, so suddenly. Now we were on the Expressway over Darling Harbour where buildings with their eyes gouged out had been demolished to make way for 'development', for the men of power to build monliths to themselves. Some days the city looked like a huge building site. The present annhilating the past and sweet-talking the future. We ducked under the Monorail, that stealthy snake-like creature that had lately insinuated itself into the city, passed docks and piers and luxury launches...and the old warehouse that remind that Sydney was, after all, a port.

I have to confess to getting a little bored with the story by the end. There were times when Day's gentle crime story got overshadowed by her love letter to Sydney.
In fact, Sydney, as a character, was fleshed out and developed more thoroughly than any of the flesh & blood characters!

On the other hand, Sulari Gentill's 1930's mystery romp around Sydney was delightfully charming from start to finish.

A Few Right Thinking Men (2010) is the first book in Gentill's Rowland Sinclair series.

Rowland Sinclair & his artistic friends are well-rounded, believable characters. The crime they find themselves mixed up in is fairly easy to work out. But it's the predicaments and situations they get themselves into (& out of again) that provide the action and the interest. Witty dialogue & fascinating historical notes make this book un-put-downable.

Sydney once again plays a big role in this story as the characters and some of the drama centres around the opening of the brand new Sydney Harbour Bridge (which my grandparents also witnessed on their honeymoon).

Yass also plays a role when Rowland and his friends visit family in country NSW.

Gentill highlights a fascinating time in NSW history - with the rise of the New Guard, Jack Lang's turbulent Premiership & the effects of the Depression.

I will definitiely seek out the rest of the books in her series (A Decline in Prophets, Miles Off Course, Paving the New Road, Gentlemen Formerly Dressed & just this month, A Murder Unmentioned).

Both books were read for AusReading Month.


  1. I have no memory at all of the Day book, despite having read it many years ago, but I love revisiting that vision of Darling Harbour. The Sulari Gentill series, however - totally memorable and very good fun.

  2. I thought I remembered that you posted something about Sulari Gentill. A couple of people I know have been reading her books & recommended them. I went to a Lifeline book sale on the weekend & found Gentlemen Formerly Dressed for a friend who's been trying to find it 2nd hand - $4. Not bad & it was almost new condition.


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