I mentioned last week that I had every intention of reading The Pearl Thief before YALC starts – so I did. Running low on time to actually sit and read, I had the disjointed experience of alternating between audiobook and paperback, which was the first time I’ve done that. It was an interesting way to read the book, but it meant that I got through it much faster than I would have if I had stuck to only one or the other medium. I was predisposed to like this book before I started – I absolutely ADORED Code Name Verity, and have very much liked Rose Under Fire and Black Dove, White Raven. I knew this would be different to all of those, because it doesn’t have any pilots in it. It also covers Julia as a younger woman, on her summer holidays from her Swiss finishing school. But that doesn’t mean it’s not wonderful.
From the internationally acclaimed bestselling author of Code Name Verity comes a stunning new story of pearls, love and murder – a mystery with all the suspense of an Agatha Christie and the intrigue of Downton Abbey.
Sixteen-year-old Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her family’s ancestral home in Perthshire for one last summer. It is not an idyllic return to childhood. Her grandfather’s death has forced the sale of the house and estate and this will be a summer of goodbyes. Not least to the McEwen family – Highland travellers who have been part of the landscape for as long as anyone can remember – loved by the family, loathed by the authorities. Tensions are already high when a respected London archivist goes missing, presumed murdered. Suspicion quickly falls on the McEwens but Julie knows not one of them would do such a thing and is determined to prove everyone wrong. And then she notices the family’s treasure trove of pearls is missing.
This beautiful and evocative novel is the story of the irrepressible and unforgettable Julie, set in the year before the Second World War and the events of Code Name Verity. It is also a powerful portrayal of a community under pressure and one girl’s determination for justice.
There was so much to love in this book. A determined, aristocratic young girl who is saying goodbye to her ancestral home, and fighting against injustice for her newfound friends. A depiction of the Scottish Travelling community which is sympathetic but never schmaltzy. And a murder mystery which turns out to be nothing I would have ever expected it to be. This book had me gripped, as Julie wrestled with her feelings and began to discover her blossoming sexuality, and tried to solve the mystery of the missing pearls.
What was wonderful about this book was that none of the characters were black and white – from librarian Mary Kinnaird’s biased hatred of the McEwens to Julie’s own ignorance of her privileged background, every character is a rounded and believable human being, one that I could almost imagine stepping off the page to talk to me.
The Pearl Thief was excellent, with a gripping plot, wonderful characters, and a setting which oozed with the love the author clearly has for Perthshire Scotland.
The only reason this book doesn’t get a five-star rating from me is probably something of an unfair one – because CNV and RUF are so incredibly, touchingly, heartbreakingly wonderful, I felt like there was something – a tiny something – missing from this book, that it was missing the emotional resonance which made me sit for a few minutes after finishing the two sequels to this and just think for a while.
The Pearl Thief is excellent, there’s no doubt about it. But it’s not quite the wonder that Code Name Verity is.