Guest Review by Leslie D. Rush. Follow Leslie on Twitter @LeslieDRush
The Pearl Thief
317 pages (with author’s notes)
The Pearl Thief is the coming of age story of Julia Beaufort-Stuart, whose privileged life in the world of Scottish nobility collides with prejudice and her own sexual stirrings in the summer of 1938.
Julie’s Grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn, has died deep in debt, and the family is spending their last summer at the estate. Grandfather’s historical collection is catalogued and the estate grounds are being converted to an elite boarding school. Shortly after arriving, Julie is knocked unconscious on the banks of the river and wakes up in the hospital with little recollection of the attack, or the following three days, during which she was rescued and tended to by a family of Scottish gypsies, known as Travellers.
Julie befriends the family of Travellers, but the disappearance of one of the estate historians is tied to the attack on Julie. This disappearance becomes a suspected suicide, but when the river gives up body parts, the inquiry turns into a murder investigation. Long-ingrained class prejudice against the Travellers surfaces among the local law enforcement, Julie’s librarian friend, and her own family. As her memory of the initial attack begins to return, Julie must solve the mystery before her friends are framed for murder.
Throughout the book Julie has a burgeoning crush on Frank, the remaining historian. He is at least fifteen years older than Julie, but she implies she is older than her almost-sixteen years and flirts with him constantly. Frank keeps Julie at arm’s length but is obviously attracted to her. Julie also has a crush on the beautiful, prickly Ellen, a member of the Travellers, and a well-drawn, interesting character, who teaches Julie how boys kiss “when they mean it.”
The unfolding mystery is solid, and the historical background is fascinating. I struggled with Julie’s wildly inappropriate relationship with Frank, despite its underlying message as a cautionary tale. The excessive use of parentheticals and italics to establish Julie’s voice was distracting, but eloquent descriptions of the landscape and history of the region create a powerful setting.
This book is the prequel to the much-praised Code Name Verity. It stands on its own fairly well, but I suspect it will have more impact on readers who know Julie’s eventual fate. This one feels like Nancy Drew confronts British class prejudice and kisses a girl.
The Pearl Thief is recommended for ages fifteen and up. Recommended for readers of Code Name Verity and anyone who loves historical fiction and mystery.
FTC Required Disclaimer: I received the book from the publisher for #Cybils panel. I did not receive monetary compensation for this review nor did the guest reviewer.