A Dangerous Language: Australian politics, family and a mystery to solve

A dangerous Language Book review

What is this about?: Rowland Sinclair finds himself involved in a race against time to help Egon Kisch land and speak in Australia, while trying to solve the murder of a member of the Communist Party in Australia, the same Party who has asked for his help to ensure Kisch lands in Australia.

What else is this about?: Family bonds — Wil is Rowly’s elder brother, and at odds with everything he stands for. There is enough in this book about them that made me very curious about their lives before, and how they ended up being on the outs so much. Then there’s Edna, the sculptress who loves Rowly, but will not commit to him. Nor does she expect the same from him, though he is willing to commit to her.

Blurb: Volunteering his services as a pilot to fly renowned international peace advocate Egon Kisch between Fremantle and Melbourne, Rowland is unaware how hard Australia’s new attorney-general will fight to keep the “raging reporter” off Australian soil. In this, it seems, the government is not alone, as clandestine right-wing militias reconstitute into deadly strike forces. A disgraced minister, an unidentified corpse and an old flame all bring their own special bedlam. Once again Rowland Sinclair stands against the unthinkable, with an artist, a poet and a brazen sculptress by his side.

Stars: 3.5/5

I’ve had a good run with jumping into a series recently, without starting at book 1, but I think my luck has run out — in a good way of sorts. Book 8 of the Rowland Sinclair mysteries hints at Rowland Sinclair’s adventurous, detailed and complicated life in the previous 7 books, and it left me feeling desperate to go back to the beginning to understand Rowland, politics and 1930s Melbourne.

In this book, Rowly is asked to transport Kisch to speak at a congress in Melbourne (about Nazis, Hitler and what might be coming), as well as to keep an eye on all the goings on in Canberra, which as it turns out, is murder. 

I wish I had started with book 1 — yes I am saying this again. Rowland Sinclair is a dashing young man, an artist and filled with strong convictions that have put him at odds with his family, namely his brother Wil. There are hints about their fractured relationship — their brother Aubrey, their father’s death and even Rowly’s imprisonment in Europe. 

Thing is, as much as they are at loggerheads, Wil will come to Rowly’s aid if he needs it. He’ll hate everything Rowly may do, but this book makes it clear that  he loves his brother, even as Rowly tests that over and over again. There’s something so compelling about relationships like this — how did they get to this point? See, I also figured out the thing about jumping in the middle of a series — is it hellaciously frustrating? Yes. But if it makes me ask

Rowland travels and lives with Edna, a young sculptress he loves fiercely. He will not force her into a commitment she does not want, though if she asks he would in a heartbeat. Edna herself is a woman who doesn’t care for society’s norms and lives her own way. Rowland respects that and she loves him for it, but theirs too is a complicated relationship I wish I could understand better, especially from the beginning of the series.

Aside from these two complicated relationships, Rowland is involved in politics — or to be clear, he does not affiliate himself with any political party, but stands up for what he believes is right in his own way. This is how he finds himself working for the Communist Party though not a member per say.

The politics in this are complicated to me, and weren’t as interesting as the relationships in Rowland’s life, I suspect because I need to understand how he feels about it all, and how he came to be involved in it. I wanted to know what had shaped him and brought him to the point that he would risk everything to see Kisch land in Melbourne, even his relationship with Wil.

This left me with more questions than answers, but they’re questions I want to know the answers to. Rowland is a wonderfully complex character, who believes fiercely that he is doing the right thing. Gentill has given him losses to bear, and emotional depth in the relationships around him  that makes him an engaging character to read about.


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