2021 NED KELLY AWARD NOMINEE, BEST CRIME FICTION
Hell hath no fury like a family disinherited…
American millionaire Daniel Cartwright has been shot dead: three times in the chest, and once in the head. His body is found in Harvard Yard, dressed in evening attire. No one knows who he planned to meet there, or why the staunch Oxford man would be caught dead at Harvard—literally.
Australian Rowland Sinclair, his mate from Oxford and longtime friend, is named executor of the will, to his great surprise—and that of Danny’s family. Events turn downright ugly when the will all but disinherits Danny’s siblings in favor of one Otis Norcross, whom no one knows or is able to locate. Amidst assault, kidnapping, and threats of slander, Rowly struggles to understand Danny’s motives, find the missing heir, and identify his friend’s killer before the clock—and his luck—run out.
A deft blend of history and mystery, WHERE THERE’S A WILL offers an alternately charming and chilling snapshot of Boston and New York in the 1930s, with cameo appearances by luminaries of the day including Marion Davies, Randolph Hearst, Errol Flynn, Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, and an arrogantly ardent Joe Kennedy, who proves no match for Rowly’s sculptress friend Edna…
I love it when I can get into daily life of the 1930s crowd, although these characters are all so wealthy it was difficult for me to identify. The background is Boston, New York, and North Carolina and name-dropping throughout the narrative brought some jolting moments. Not that old, but these support or peripheral characters are names even most younger people would recognize.
The protagonist, Rowland Sinclair, and his cronies are Australian called from Singapore to Boston upon notice of the death of a close and dear friend, David Cartwright. Rowland is accompanied by Edna (who he insists on calling Ed), Clyde, and Milton. To Rowland’s horror, he has been named executor of David’s will. Upon reading of the will, however, the family discovers the bulk of David’s wealth is to go to one Otis Norcross—assuming he can be found. The Cartwrights are not happy.
In languid prose, the narrative proceeds with no one breaking out a sweat to find Otis—although that is the declared objective from the beginning as well as the discovery of who killed David. In the meantime, the novel introduces all manner of early to mid-thirties characters, invoking scenes in which Marion Davies, Joseph Kennedy, or William Randolph Hearst might appear. (Followed by Errol Lynn and Orson Wells.)
“Reputation is what you are supposed to be; character is what you are.”
There are gangsters, both Irish and Italian, formal dress codes for dinner, fashions, sights and sounds of the time along with delightful and entertaining quotes from news reports as intro to new chapters. I also enjoyed the lively scenes of the dance halls, noting the Savoy in New York and the creation and popularity of the Lindy Hop.*
There are twists, turns, and shenanigans that sidetrack the MCs and I loved the tidbits regarding some of those historical figures as well as F Scott Fitzgerald and Monopoly (the Parker Brothers game that saved the company). So many historical luminaries woven into the story!
I must admit that my attention waned several times throughout the book as the gain in the whodunit was rather slow, then something would happen to spark my interest again. Took a while to get to the heart of the matter, the histories of the victim and the missing Otis, and I’d guessed the antagonist shortly after introduction to the plot.
My first experience with the author and the series, it’s obvious that Rowland and Ed have a thing, have had for some time, so I wasn’t particularly thrilled about the solution in the conclusion but any history buff would enjoy the Louella Parsons worthy gossip.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author and publisher through @NetGalley that in no way influenced this review. These are my honest thoughts.
Trigger Warning: Homophobia
Rosepoint Rating: Four Stars
Genre: Organized Crime, Historical Mysteries
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press
Print Length: 386 pages
Publication Date: January 18, 2022
Source: Publisher and NetGalley
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The Author: After setting out to study astrophysics, graduating in law and then abandoning her legal career to write books, Sulari now grows French black truffles on her farm in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains of NSW. Sulari is author of The Rowland Sinclair Mystery series, historical crime fiction novels (eight in total) set in the 1930s. Sulari’s A Decline in Prophets (the second book in the series) was the winner of the Davitt Award for Best Adult Crime Fiction 2012. She was also shortlisted for Best First Book (A Few Right Thinking Men) for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2011. Paving the New Road was shortlisted for another Davitt in 2013.
[Goodreads] Sulari lives with her husband, Michael, and their boys, Edmund and Atticus, on a small farm in Batlow where she grows French Black Truffles and refers to her writing as “work” so that no one will suggest she get a real job.
* The Lindy Hop is an American dance which was born in the African-American communities in Harlem, New York City, in 1928. [Wikipedia]
©2022 V Williams