Review Blog

May 09 2017

The pearl thief by Elizabeth Wein

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Bloomsbury, 2017. ISBN 9781484717165
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. Crime fiction. Scotland. Historical fiction. Prejudice. When Julia returns from Switzerland to help her family clear out her grandfather's estate before a school takes over the house, she arrives a few days early and goes for a walk in the valley, aware it will be for the last time. But she wakes three days later in hospital, hair shaved and a blinding headache, while the nursing staff treat her with contempt. She was found unconscious by a group of Travelers and the resultant newspaper headline and her scrappy clothes did not endear her to the hospital staff. Prejudice against the Travelers was well ingrained in the 1930's. But back at home, where she and her family are living in just a few rooms while they pack, she finds that her Grandfather's pearls are missing, the pearl price paid by the Travelers generations ago to use the land each year, along with those he found in the waterways on their estate. But when the curator sent from Oxford to catalogue the estate's trove, also vanishes, Julia begins to take a closer interest in the artefacts and the man's disappearance. With her memory of the circumstances when she was struck slowly returning, she puts herself in danger. She wants to find out what happened to her, and in trying to find more evidence in the water where she was when hit, finds a jar with the stolen pearls. She and her brother, Jamie, alone with the Traveler twins Euan and Ellen who rescued her, make a decision about what to do with the pearls. And again they are all in danger.
With a wonderful setting amongst the hills in Perthshire this page turning story with hints of the nineteenth century stories of Stevenson and Scott, as well as nods to Robbie Burns, the tale will appeal to mid secondary readers who relish crime stories. With elements of a cosy but full of rounded beguiling characters, a touch of romance and a style which will remind readers of Agatha Christie, Patricia Wentworth or Dorothy Sayers, this is
a prequel to the highly successful, Code name Verity, and Rose under fire. The pearl thief will delight readers with its setting, construction, characters and plot twists. Wein cleverly shows the changing attitudes to women through Julia and Ellen, and their changing circumstances reflect the changes in society as a whole, as the titled family moves from its ancestral home, and the Travelers find it difficult to find a place to camp.
Fran Knight

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