I have been completely, and unexpectedly entranced by this book! Set in a fascinating period (1930s) with elements of social observation, a little light romance, a family tragedy and even a murder mystery – it really does have everything!
‘The Pearl Thief’ is narrated by privileged Julie Beaufort-Stuart , otherwise known as Lady Julia. Her family is packing up their ancestral home and estate after it had to be sold to cover her Grandfather’s debts following his recent death. The story takes place during the last summer the family is staying there, packing up treasures to sell at auction, including items in a collection of ancient pieces. An archivist connected to the collection goes missing and is assumed to have been murdered, and Julia herself is knocked senseless and left with almost no memory of who might have done it. Fingers start to point at a family of travellers who have had connections to the estate for centuries. Julia is determined to prove their innocence.
Trying to befriend Ellen, the daughter of the travellers, Julia is awash with mixed emotions, as she is constantly drawn to the acerbic girl. Gradually memories start to return and, with her brothers’ help, the tale begins to unfold.
I just loved the mix of period atmosphere, along with the mystery gradually unfolding. Freshwater pearls from the rivers on the estate are a complex reminder of better times, but also a draw for the greedy, and their theft is at the heart of the mystery.
This title is billed as a prequel to ‘Code Name Verity’, but reads perfectly well without having read the other title. I loved the voice of the narrator, who turns sixteen during the story, but longs to be seen as a sophisticated woman. She is wise, bold and naive at the same time. She also has a self-assurance that her family position gives her, despite their poverty. All the women in the book are portrayed fondly and as independent characters, coping with the tragedy in their own very practical and individual ways. The ‘tinker’ family (Scottish travellers) are drawn with sensitivity, being as much a part of the estate as Julia’s family. The suspicion of them shown by others rings very true and is unpleasant to read.
Although a mystery at heart, this is a tale of coming of age and exploring privilege and stereotyping. I don’t think this will appeal widely to our students, but a few names spring to mind who I shall recommend this to and I am confident that sophisticated readers will also love it.