This second entry in Gentill’s Rowland Sinclair mystery series fulfilled my fervent wish after reading the first: let the next book be as good! So it has and so am I happy.
A Decline in Prophets finds Rowly and his Bohemian coterie of sculptress Edna Higgins, poet Milton Isaacs, and artist Clyde Watson aboard the liner Aquitania for their return from Europe. Exiled from Australia for a time to let the scandals and dangers from their escapades in book one (A Few Right Thinking Men) dissipate, they’re finally heading home. The ship will dock first in New York before continuing to Sydney.
Among their fellow passengers are the very orthodox catholic Bishop Hanrahan with his niece and Fathers Murphy and Bryan. Also on board are the World President of the Theosophical Movement, Annie Besant and various members of her avant garde society. The bishop is determined to protect his innocent niece from both the heretical theosophists and Rowly’s morally degenerate clan, all of them traveling in first class and constantly crossing paths.
When one of the theosophists dies, Rowly is briefly suspected, but manages to clear his name. Then Annie Besant is found unconscious at the bottom of a stairway and whether she fell or was pushed is unclear. Since both incidents happened in international waters, no country wants jurisdiction and nothing is solved before arriving in New York.
The Aquitania sets sail for Australia with all three groups still on board and the bishop even more choleric in his behavior. His niece, Isobel however, is openly pursuing Rowly and he’s not immune to her beauty or charming personality. When a secret of Isobel’s is revealed, he tries to extricate himself from the budding relationship without exposing her, but the plan backfires and Bishop Hanrahan attacks Rowly. Despite Isobel’s defense of him, the bishop will not drop his accusations. As the ship pulls into port, Isobel’s body lands in the harbor, an apparent suicide.
Once on land, the deaths continue to haunt their lives and influence their actions as more deaths occur. Desperate to find out who, what, and why, Rowly finds himself a target as well.
Dry British wit blends with engaging story lines and an intriguing mystery. Again, the time and locations all play important roles in the story without getting in the way. The rise of the Nazis in Germany, the effects of the Depression in both America and Australia, the divisions in the Theosophical Society’s various branches on the world stage, and many other social and political venues appear, giving depth to the novel without the heaviness of unwanted scholarship. I learned a lot and it didn’t hurt a bit!