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PAVING THE NEW ROAD
by Sulari Gentill
Poisoned Pen Press, January 2018
370 pages
$26.95
ISBN: 1464206899


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

It's 1933, and Australian New Guard leader Eric Campbell is in Germany hoping to meet with Hitler and other high-ranking Fascists in order to give his party and their beliefs more authority and a better chance of winning the Australian public's favor. Rowland Sinclair and his left-leaning artist friends are unlikely choices to stop Campbell, but choose them the Old Guard does, asking them to fly to Germany and meet with a man accompanying Campbell on his European tour and do whatever they're asked to do. They'll be replacing an experienced spy who died mysteriously, so the mission is not without danger, and the friends encounter that danger almost as soon as they arrive in Germany, getting beaten by Brownshirts, threatened by underground Communists, and risking discovery of their true identities at every turn. In the end, Sinclair finds himself fighting for his life as he maneuvers between completing his mission to make Campbell's tour a failure and discovering the truth about the previous agent's death.

Sulari Gentill uses press clippings and a nice assortment of day-to-day details to make the 1933 setting believable, both in Australia and in Germany. She also does a nice job of balancing the danger and the friends' work as spies with the cover story of the group being in Munich simply to buy art. While some of the capers Sinclair and his friends pull off are a bit far-fetched, overall, their encounters with Nazis, journalists, and Communists, their trips to a lake and a gala, and their experiences in Munich as tourists are both believable and work to move the story forward. The plot itself is a bit thin, but Sinclair and his friends are such fun to be with that what they're involved with matters less than seeing them interact with each other and others.

Of course, the tension and the mystery created by the setting and the unexplained death do keep things interesting. The horrors to come are alluded to, and their beginnings are already evident in the actions of some of the characters, but this is not a heavy, deep-dive into German politics of 1933; much of what Sinclair's group sees is unsettling, and they decidedly don't want Fascism to get to Australia, but overall, the mood is kept fairly light. The solution to both the mysterious death and of overall events doesn't come as a complete surprise, but it is well handled and satisfying. The ending is presented as a series of short explanations of what happened after all the drama ended, and all the important questions are answered and situations are summarized and explained to the point that the reader isn't left wondering about any of the outcomes of events themselves but is still left curious about how Sinclair and his friends will evolve. (This is the fourth book in the series, and there seems to be a promise of more to come.) Overall, Gentill tells a good story filled with intriguing characters and is able through the setting and times as well as the events to keep the reader on edge and uncomfortable to just the right degree.

Meredith Frazier, a writer with a background in English literature, lives in Dallas, Texas

Reviewed by Meredith Frazier, March 2018

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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