Goodreads: The Pearl Thief
Series: Code Name Verity #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Fifteen-year-old Julia Beaufort-Stuart is back at her grandfather’s estate for one last summer before it is sold. She expects to be busy doing nothing more than packing boxes, but ends up in the hospital the first day she arrives. She cannot remember what happened, but it seems like her injury might be linked to the employee missing from the estate. Everyone suspects the Travellers who have, for years, come to help on the estate and gone pearl fishing in the river, but Julia knows that the McEwens are innocent. Things start to look bad for Julia’s new friends, however, when a body is found in the river.
Having not yet read Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief was going to be, for me, a fun period mystery more than anything else. However, I have to admit that “fun” and “mystery” do not accurately describe the story I found. Though mysterious things are happening around Julie at her grandfather’s estate, her interests include flirting, driving, and wandering–not detecting. She simply stumbles across clues periodically until the mystery is cleared up by accident, with little intent on her part or, really, on anybody’s. In fact, no one even knows that there is a Pearl Thief, so the title is a bit misleading. In short, The Pearl Thief is a coming-of-age story whose primary interest comes from being set in Scotland and including much information on Scottish river pearls. It will appeal to fans of Code Name Verity or readers who like travel stories, but it will likely disappoint those looking for an actual mystery.
I really enjoy mysteries, so I have to admit that I find myself in the camp of those who will be disappointed by this story. From the summary, I got the idea that Julie would want to play detective as soon as she realized that an employee was missing off the estate, along some pearls. However, no one seems too concerned with the man’s disappearance–not his employers, not the police, and certainly not Julia. No one knows that he apparently absconded with some pearls, either. In fact, no one even remembers that the pearls existed! Julia does have vague memories of them, but brushes them aside. Readers will likely realize pretty quickly from all this what is happening (there must be a reason certain people did not see fit to report an employee as missing), but Julia does not–and she does not care, either.
Fifteen-year-old Julie is really just concerned with having a good time–and I don’t blame her. She has fun trying to flirt with an older man, and she spends her days traipsing about the countryside and trying to woo Ellen, a standoffish Traveller. The Travellers are some of the more interesting characters, considered as a group. Elizabeth Wein depicts just some of the suspicion and abuse they face from society because of their iterant lifestyle–even though it is clear that they contribute a lot to the local economy and should be valued members of the community. An author’s note at the end gives more information about and context for the Travellers, including their current situation.
Scotland, its culture, and its history end up being the true stars of this book, being drawn more vividly than even the characters. Julia is sort of a standard teen who enjoys having a good time. Ewen McEwen is almost nonexistent, despite his prominence in the official summary. Ellen McEwen is more provocative, but does not end up having enough of a personality to be truly intriguing. But real love for Scotland and its heritage leaps off every page, and readers will enjoy immensely the opportunity to learn about the moors, river pearls, and, yes, the Travellers. Make no mistake; Scotland is the protagonist here, not Julia.
The Pearl Thief taught me a lot about Scotland, and I loved learning more about Scottish river pearls, since I had not known they existed. However, the official summary mislead me into thinking the book would be a mystery, when it is really a coming-of-age story. I still enjoyed the book, but I think I would have enjoyed it more, had I not been expecting something entirely different.