The Austrailan Women's Weekly

- Leila McKinnon

Travel back in time to 1932 and book a first-class suite on the passenger liner RMS Aquitania, but take care, for among your fellow passengers is a ruthless killer. Also travelling the seas in style is wealthy young Australian pastoralist and artist Rowland Sinclair and his band of bohemian friends. He's an old school gentleman with new ideas, but his life of polo, parties and painting is interrrupted by his attempts to find the emurderer, who seems keen on making Rowly his next victim. Rowland and his mates make the most of 1932, socialising with movie stars, roaring over the newly completed Sydney Harbour Bridge in a slick roadster and partying with artist Norman Lindsay. An elusive killer, a charming sleuth and a historical setting, A Decline in Prophets is glossy, original and appealingly Australian.

The Age

- Cameron Woodhead

Sulari Gentill’s A Decline in Prophets continues the sparkling Depression-era crime series that began with A Few Right Thinking Men.  Gentleman sleuth Rowland Sinclair was born to wealth but surrounds himself with bohemian friends – a commie poet, a sculptor and an impoverished painter among them.  Last time, the dilettante uncovered a conspiracy to quash “reds under the bed.  Now, he’s aboard a luxury liner, along with a surprising number of religious figures.  Members of the Theosophical Society jostle with prophets and bishops.  Naturally, the ungodly happens—and Rowly’s impeccable manners leave him stranded in a web of murder.  Gentill writes charming Australian historical crime.  There’s an Evelyn-Waugh-meets-Agatha-Christie feel about this series, though it perhaps bears closer comparison to that celebrated contemporary author of period crime, the Russian Boris Akunin.

Herald Sun  

Murder on the High Seas  

 - Claire Kennedy

This murder mystery, the second in the Rowland Sinclair detective series, is an entertaining frolic that made me yearn for the era of ocean-liner travel. 

It is 1932.  Rowland and his artistic friends are enjoying a life of gracious refinement aboard the luxury RMS Aquitania after months abroad.  But the genteel atmosphere is shattered when a fellow diner is found stabbed with Rowland’s silver-capped walking stick.  As the body count climbs, and Rowland is implicated, he pursues his own investigations.

We meet some vivid characters including an intimidating clairvoyant, a conniving Irish beauty and a bad-tempered archbishop.  But the question of  whodunit is  less engaging than the social theatre of the liner and a christening at the Sinclair family’s Woollahra mansion, where po-faced matrons rub shoulders with artists and a clan of bearish Scots.

While some characters remain elusive, Gentill captures beautifully the camaraderie between Rowland’s free-spirited friends.  She also portrays the strands of bohemian and morally conservative society in which they cavort.

Verdict:  a killer of a tale



Fans of Australian writing (not just crime fiction) if you've not caught up yet with Rowly Sinclair and his wanderings through 1930's Sydney and beyond, where on earth have you been?

A DECLINE IN PROPHETS is the second book in the Rowland Sinclair series from Sulari Gentill and after dithering around for a week or so trying to come up with something that describes the book accurately. I'll just have to settle for my first reaction when I got to the last page.  Blast - wonder when the next one will be out...

In my review of the first book - A FEW RIGHT THINKING MEN - I did comment something along the lines of there being just a little more history than mystery at points, but that balance has been elegantly sorted out in the second book.  Not to say that the history suffers here either - the research that goes into the background of these books is fantastic, but the story-telling is even better.  In A DECLINE IN PROPHETS Roly and his band of supporting artists and bohemians have been off around the world, but the action of the book mostly takes place on the RMS Aquitania - giving a very believable closed room setting.  Both on ship and on land, there's a good range of puzzles and mysteries, a good dose of the relationships between Roly and his friends, and as an added extra a lot of Roly and his family when the travellers eventually return home.

The great thing about these books is that you can really see them appealing to lots of different reader's preferences - the historical period is wonderfully evoked, the action is strong but there's no overt sense of thriller going on.  The deaths are believable, but the scenes described with sufficient detail to give the reader a sense of what is happening, without any gore or sensationalism.  There's a touch of romance, just the slightest bit of unrequited relationship between Roly and sculptor and companion Edna but not enough to make me throw my hands in the air and scream not again!  There's also a great cast of the slightly eccentric through to flat out mad as a hatter types all of whom serve their part in the cast without raising any sneaking sense of affect. 

What really sticks in my mind about A DECLINE IN PROPHETS is that it's just flat out, great story telling.  Good characters, a believable plot, both of which transport the reader to a place and a time that just feels right.  Regardless of your preference in crime fiction, lovers of cozies, procedurals, historical or current day settings, A DECLINE IN PROPHETS is just a fantastic book.

Booktopia Buzz

"...a heady mix of religion, murder and scandal. We've got the inner workings of an international cult (the Theosophical Movement), luxury boats, seances and mystics and the Masons - in short, the grace, charm and contradiction of the 1930s (plus a rather alarming body count), all put together with Gentill's now trademark light-hearted irony."

Angela Savage

"Sulari does such a great job of immersing the reader in the ambiance of the early 1930s, I’m inclined to describe A Decline in Prophets as ‘keen, snazzy, swell’ – an assured, engaging, highly entertaining novel from a talented and prolific author."

Fair Dinkum Crime

"...I really ought not to have enjoyed this book. Its hero, Rowly Sinclair, is the kind of world-wandering dilettante living off inherited wealth instead of the product of his own toil that should offend my lefty sensibilities. But, in what might be evidence that my principles are only skin deep, I like Rowly very much and loved the book too. Rowly is generous to all and a good and true friend to his pals (none of whom share his wealthy background). He also tries hard to fulfil the duties and obligations his family expect of him (except when it comes to marrying the string of suitable women they throw at him). His life is tinged with sadness too as his own mother does not acknowledge his existence, behaving instead as if he is his older brother who died in the war a dozen years earlier. His friends, a sculptress with whom Rowly is in love, a painter whose background is the complete opposite of Rowly’s and a plagiarising poet with Communist sympathies, are nicely fleshed out too and the relationships between the various members of the group are a real highlight of this book. There is a real Australian feel to it too

Rowland Sinclair, Milton Isaacs and Clyde Watson Jones lined up at the foot of her bed, all leaning against the rail as they asked about her health. Annie Besant regarded them warmly. It was a particularly Australian habit, she observed – to lean. Australian men seem to lean whenever possible – against walls, posts, chairs. Her late husband would have considered it offensive, slovenly, but Annie found it somehow charming…Australians had the ability to relax in any company or circumstances – they would face Armageddon itself leaning casually on a fence. It put her at ease in their presence.

Another highlight of A Decline in Prophets is the way Gentill absorbs readers in the historical period using a combination of real characters and events (each chapter begins with a news clipping or other snippet to set the mood) and delicious facts and details scattered throughout what is a gripping mystery. It doesn’t hurt that this period, falling between two world wars which seem to me be saturated by historical fiction, is somewhat under-represented in the historical fiction space. I really enjoyed the depiction of a wide range of political and social groups (including the much-maligned Freemasons) as well as the more personal experiences that might have been unique to the time. Even a visit to Sydney’s Rockwood cemetery provides an interesting insight into the social norms of the day and the meeting of Rowly’s bohemian friends and his sister-in-law’s pious Scottish relatives is an opportunity for much observational wit.

The only real problem I had with this reading experience is that I gobbled the book up too quickly and now have a long wait for the third instalment of the series. The combination of thoughtfully drawn characters, gentle but clever humour and the obvious love Gentill has for the story she wants to tell and the time period in which it is set made this a very satisfying read for me and one I would recommend widely."

Pick of the Week : Bendigo Weekly - Brenda Stevens-Chambers

"I have lost count of the recent publications of around 350 pages where I have wanted to do some serious pruning. However, it was with some relief that I zoomed through A Decline in Prophets, by Australian writer Sulari Gentill, without picking up the shears.

A Decline in Prophets is a second “Rowland Sinclair Novel”, and there could be a third in the offering. Rowland Sinclair is the novel’s handsome, gentlemanly protagonist. Rowly, as his friends affectionately call him, lives the life of an artist in Woollahra, Sydney. He is the younger son of a grazing dynasty, and absolutely rolling in money. His friends include Norman Lindsay (Gentill has great fun dropping names). 

The novel opens with Rowly on board a luxury liner returning to Sydney, via New York.  With him are close Aussie friends: Enid a ditzy ‘‘sculptress’’ and two mates, one an artist, the other a lack-lustre poet. This lucky trio has been shouted by Rowly and share his Stateroom.  Rowly, whose mansion is adorned with paintings of nudes, may seem privileged, but he is smart: he helps solve several murders while magically escaping the same fate.
Rowley is surrounded by wealthy, educated eccentrics, all of a religious frame of mind. Annie is a Theosophist who is returning to New York while several other Theosophists are heading home to Sin City.  There is also an Irish Catholic Bishop, two Catholic deacons, and the Bishop’s wayward niece on board.

Gentill sets up a rollicking high-seas yarn topped off in Sydney with a fall from a bell tower and some shenanigans in a graveyard where Rowly has another close shave.  And then, Rowly is briefly considered a Prophet, the second gorgeously farcical idea that Gentill has some fun with.

Readers will find an interesting twist in the relationship between Rowly and his older brother Wilfred. Wilfred is a judgmental, manipulative conservative and Rowly experiences considerable character assassination as he struggles to please his bully of a brother.  The denouement is deft."