Murder Mile by Lynda La Plante

murder mile.jpgTitle: Murder Mile

Author: Lynda La Plante

Genre: Crime/Mystery

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 15th August, 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price:  $32.99

Synopsis: Four brutal murders, a city living in fear, a killer on the streets…Prime Suspect’s Jane Tennison returns in the 4th book in the bestselling Tennison series, from the doyenne of crime fiction.

February, 1979, ‘The Winter of Discontent’. Economic chaos has led to widespread strikes across Britain.

Jane Tennison, now a Detective Sergeant, has been posted to Peckham CID, one of London’s toughest areas. As the rubbish on the streets begins to pile up, so does the murder count: two bodies in as many days.

There are no suspects and the manner of death is different in each case. The only link between the two victims is the location of the bodies, found within a short distance of each other near Rye Lane in Peckham. Three days later another murder occurs in the same area. Press headlines scream that a serial killer is loose on ‘Murder Mile’ and that police incompetence is hampering the investigation.

Jane is under immense pressure to catch the killer before they strike again. Working long hours with little sleep, what she uncovers leaves her doubting her own mind.

~*~

As the winter of 1979 inches along, WDS Jane Tennison is working with the Peckham CID when bodies start showing up along Rye Lane, and with a serial killer on the loose, the press soon christen it “Murder Mile”. As the bodies pile up, Jane and her team search for connections between them, and in the seventies, prevailing attitudes against women in the force and ideas about how people should conduct themselves, and the various disagreements that crop up when friends are brought into suspicion, tensions arise as Jane tries to keep an open mind and not let prior relationships and connections get in the way of justice. As the plot moves along, suspects fall in and out of favour, some fizzle away into nothing, some disappear and others are let loose – yet one suspect looms large on Jane’s list – the only one connected to each victim, a dentist who is good friends with someone Jane works with, yet Jane doesn’t seem keen to let him off the hook.

As the case progresses, tensions rise amongst the cops and detectives, the complexities of the case become clearer , and soon, all attention turns to one viable suspect as Jane convinces the team leaders to look into them – making for an intriguing and fast-paced, and surprising finale as conflicts of the law and privilege, class and gender intersect to bring to life a story and characters that are vibrant and deep, exploring policing in an era when, as Jane observes, its still very much a male-dominated job, yet at the same time, showing the varying array and approaches to people and attitudes of the late seventies, and how these were dealt with.

The fourth in the Jane Tennison series, these stories see Jane starting out in her career, facing prejudice from some older detectives, and pressures to conform to what her family expects of her, and what society sees as right – despite the changes in society at the time as well. Caught between these changes and traditions that some characters seem to hold onto, Jane manages to find her way in the world, and her own path, and is open-minded and determined – she has to be, to get the bosses at work to listen to her.

Even though I had not read the previous three books in the series, it was easy to understand what was happening, and engage with the characters and story. It had an interesting plot, complex and intriguing yet not overwhelmingly so, and allowed room for character growth and change. It is a series I would recommend to mystery fans and is one that is in the middle ground of easy and complex- easy enough to knock out in a few reading sessions, yet the complex enough to be engaging and not be rushed, which is what makes reading it quickly possible. It can be savoured too, though I found I read it quickly because I wanted to know what happened.

An enjoyable read for new and old fans.

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Review and Give Away: Scrublands by Chris Hammer

scrublands.jpgTitle: Scrublands
Author: Chris Hammer
Genre: Crime/Mystery
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Published: 25th July 2018
Format: Paperback
Pages: 496
Price: $32.99
Synopsis: Set in a fictional Riverina town at the height of a devastating drought, Scrublands is one of the most powerful, compelling and original crime novels to be written in Australia.
In an isolated country town brought to its knees by endless drought, a charismatic and dedicated young priest calmly opens fire on his congregation, killing five parishioners before being shot dead himself.

A year later, troubled journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in Riversend to write a feature on the anniversary of the tragedy. But the stories he hears from the locals about the priest and incidents leading up to the shooting don’t fit with the accepted version of events his own newspaper reported in an award-winning investigation. Martin can’t ignore his doubts, nor the urgings of some locals to unearth the real reason behind the priest’s deadly rampage.

Just as Martin believes he is making headway, a shocking new development rocks the town, which becomes the biggest story in Australia. The media descends on Riversend and Martin is now the one in the spotlight. His reasons for investigating the shooting have suddenly become very personal.

Wrestling with his own demons, Martin finds himself risking everything to discover a truth that becomes darker and more complex with every twist. But there are powerful forces determined to stop him, and he has no idea how far they will go to make sure the town’s secrets stay buried.

A compulsive thriller that will haunt you long after you have turned the final page.

~*~

MPB_4595_small.jpgMartin Scarsden is travelling towards a Riverina town a year after a tragic event took the lives of several townsfolk at the hands of the priest, to write a piece on the anniversary of the events. He arrives in a town with a ghost-like aura, where many businesses are shut, or failing, and where everyone has their own version of events that doesn’t quite line up with the official record that Martin has to work with, and he finds that he needs to probe further, and dig into the rumours spun by previous articles – which leads into conflicting account after conflicting account, and further conflicts with characters as he asks the wrong questions, writes a story that goes to print too quickly and brings a media storm to the town, resulting in more deaths and the discovery of more evidence and hints that the crimes committed a year ago were not as cut and dry as the first seemed – questions of motives and suspects, and whether they were linked in anyway come up throughout the novel. Through all this, Martin is quite taken with young Mandalay Blonde, whose involvement and knowledge of the people involved must be peeled away slowly, throughout the novel as the secrets of the town and its residents are uncovered in a media frenzy that seems never ending.

As the novel ambles towards a conclusion where many threads of what was once thought of as a singular, lone crime splinters off into four, and implicates crimes from the past in the concluding chapters, wrapping up the mysteries that Martin encounters and that the town has been hiding – each person with the secrets hiding them for various reasons. Occasionally, the novel touches on Martin’s past as a correspondent in war zones, and how his fellow journalists feel this has impacted him – he has been given a chance to show them he can write still.

The portrayal of the media is interesting – showing that a push to publish from an editor can force the hand of a journalist, but also, the anger at a journalist for reporting what he has been told, or in other ways not told, and how interviews can be warped for the gain of others. It shows that what is first reported or known isn’t necessarily the truth – and that sometimes it can take a while and a lot of digging to get to that truth. The conflict between the media, law and townsfolk was well written, and had notes of intrigue that kept the story going even when i thought things were wrapping up – there was always one more thing that needed to be taken care of.

It is a very long novel – though it didn’t take me forever to get through. The premise is interesting, with a very well written execution and delivery. The compelling mystery that isn’t quite what it seems presented a good opportunity to explore human nature and what people will do to keep suspicion off of themselves, and protect themselves – and in some cases, hurting others in the process. It interrogates the nature of small towns, and crime within these towns, and the impact that tragedies can have on a town and on individuals. Crime can affect anyone, anywhere, as this novel shows, and it also shows that the past will eventually catch up – for better or worse, and betray the flaws and cracks in humanity, where cover ups and secrets start to fall apart at the seams to reveal the truth. At times meandering and ambling in some scenes that felt slower than the rest of the novel, it is still a compelling story, that will capture the imagination of those who enjoy these kinds of mysteries and want to enter a world of secrets, betrayal and murder. It is one I enjoyed, though, and recommend to crime fiction fans and fans of Australian literature – there is an audience out there for it.

 

Giveaway

Allen and Unwin have kindly said they have three copies of this novel to give away via my blog. To be in the running for this giveaway, please comment on this blog post within one week of it going live, and answer within 25 words or less the following question:

Why do you think small country towns in Australian crime fiction have higher levels of crime?

The giveaway will run for a week, from today until the 1st of August, and is open to Australian residents. Remember to put your entry in via the comments section to be in the running, and send me a message via the contact me form to let me know how I can contact you if you win. Prizes will be mailed out by Allen and Unwin.

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Into the Night by Sarah Bailey

into the night.jpgTitle: Into the Night

Author: Sarah Bailey

Genre: Crime/Thriller

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 23rd May 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 416

Price: $32.99

Synopsis:The riveting follow-up to The Dark Lake, acclaimed debut novel and international bestseller.

The Dark Lake is a stunning debut that gripped me from page one and never eased up. Dark, dark, dark–but infused with insight, pathos, a great sense of place, and razor-sharp writing. It’s going to be big and Sarah Bailey needs to clear a shelf for awards.’ C.J. Box, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Sarah Bailey’s acclaimed debut novel The Dark Lake was a bestseller around the world and Bailey’s taut and suspenseful storytelling earned her fitting comparisons with Gillian Flynn and Paula Hawkins.

Into the Night is her stunning new crime novel featuring the troubled and brilliant Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock. This time Gemma finds herself lost and alone in the city, broken-hearted by the decisions she’s had to make. Her new workplace is a minefield and the partner she has been assigned is uncommunicative and often hostile. When a homeless man is murdered and Gemma is put on the case, she can’t help feeling a connection with the victim and the lonely and isolated life he led despite being in the middle of a bustling city.

Then a movie star is killed in bizarre circumstances on the set of a major film shoot, and Gemma and her partner Detective Sergeant Nick Fleet have to put aside their differences to unravel the mysteries surrounding the actor’s life and death. Who could commit such a brazen crime and who stands to profit from it? Far too many people, she soon discovers – and none of them can be trusted. But it’s when Gemma realises that she also can’t trust the people closest to her that her world starts closing in…

Riveting suspense, incisive writing and a fascinating cast of characters make this an utterly addictive crime thriller and a stunning follow-up to The Dark Lake.

~*~

Detective Sergeant Gemma Woodstock has been set the task of investigating the death of a homeless man, Walter Miller. since moving from Smithson after the events of The Dark Lake, Gemma is grappling with a fractured personal life, and throws herself into her work, separated from her family and former life. Having recently moved away from the country town of Smithson, she is now living in Melbourne, and working with new partner, Nick Fleet, who is still a bit of a mystery to her even after working with him for a time in between novels, or so I gathered, having not read the first one The Dark Lake. Within twenty-four hours of Gemma starting to investigate the death of the homeless man, a big movie star, Sterling Wade is murdered, and the attentions once given to Walter Miller is shifted to Sterling Wade – a circumstance that doesn’t sit well with Gemma, who feels that Sterling is only being given all their attention because he is famous. But is there more than meets the eye to this case? As Gemma and her colleagues investigate Sterling’s death, their list of suspects ebbs and flows, and ideas for motives that seem to fall into place at first dwindle and float away and it feels like the killer, and resolutions to her own personal life seem to float further and further away with each passing day.

AWW-2018-badge-roseAs this was my first introduction to Gemma Woodstock, I found myself going through liking her at times, to finding some of the things she did frustrating, to at times not liking her, but also, felt sympathy for her, and the way some of the characters treated her and demanded things of her that she couldn’t always deliver or promise, and where both parties could have handled things properly. Showing Gemma in these various lights made her human – and relatable because we all have flaws and make mistakes. Giving her the ability to not always be perfect, to fail and to make mistakes is what made the book enjoyable and seeing Gemma through her own eyes was interesting – where she recognised her flaws and performed self-reflection, shed some light on the kind of person she was, but also, that she wanted to be.

The mystery surrounding Sterling Wade and Walter Miller was intriguing – especially when the obvious reasons that the detectives came up with for motive fell through, and they went back to square one and had to meander through their evidence again, checking everything as thoroughly as possible as they investigated both crimes, along with links to a case that popped in and out of the novel, unrelated to the main plot but still one that had an impact on Gemma and her personal life. The meandering nature of the novel became more exciting and fast paced towards the end, which made it enjoyable as well.

Overall, I did quite enjoy this novel, and maybe when time allows I shall go back and read the first one.

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Murder on Christmas Eve edited by Cecily Gayford

murder on xmas eve

Title: Murder on Christmas Eve

Author: Various Authors, Edited by Cecily Gayford

Genre: Crime, short stories

Publisher: Profile Books

Published: 22nd November 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 288

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The follow up to the bestselling crime collection Murder under the Christmas Tree

Christmas Eve. While the world sleeps, snow falls gently from the sky, presents await under the tree … and murder is afoot. In this collection of ten classic murder mysteries from the best crime writers in history, death and mayhem takes many festive forms, from the inventive to the unexpected.

From a Santa Claus with a grudge to missing diamonds spirited away by a mysterious visitor, these are stories to enjoy – and be mystified by – in front of a roaring fire, mince pie to hand – or at the beach!

 

~*~

 

In Murder on Christmas Eve, some of the best crime authors have had stories with a Christmas theme collected into one volume. From Ellis Peters and the Trinity Cat, whose inexplicable appearance at the scene of a murder on Christmas Eve has the police and witnesses scratching their heads, wondering what the cat could know – and what exactly happened, to the clever stories by authors such as Ian Rankin, who invite well-known characters such as John Rebus into the fold of Christmas, where what appears to be an innocent Christmas party soon becomes a little more sinister. Some authors are British, such as Ian Rankin, some American, such as John Dickson Carr, mixed in with well-known authors – Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and G.K. Chesterton and some that I had not been aware of, and that perhaps are not as well-known as some of the others.

 

Nevertheless, they are all collected together, with a common thread of crime and Christmas linking them. They are stories that make you think and more often than not, leave you scratching your head at what had driven someone to commit the crimes depicted in the story, that have flawed characters of all kinds that make you question the human condition.  Though each story is set at Christmas, it is not always immediately obvious – sometimes it is mentioned, sometimes there are subtle clues about the setting, and all are blanketed in snow and the feel of winter that sends chills throughout the story.

 

Each story is unique, and the intrigue in each ensures that the reader will be kept guessing, and the assumed outcome will not necessarily be what happens – in clever twists, the authors hint at what could have happened, what some characters might have been driven to or were driven to – not redeeming the criminals but showing the complexity of right and wrong and how, as humans, we navigate these two factors in the world around us.

 

This was an intriguing collection of short stories, a tiny taste of each of these authors and their characters to please current fans and introduce new fans to the authors and their detectives. It showed that crime doesn’t stop just because of the season or holidays, and through these crimes, sometimes the true nature of people is revealed, and that there are times, that even the people we think we know can understand what has driven another to crime and murder. All in all, a very interesting set of stories that even though the show a darker side to humanity, make for great holiday reading alongside Charles Dickens.

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Sleep No More by P.D. James

sleep no more.jpgTitle: Sleep No More: Six Murderous Tales
Author: P.D. James
Genre: Crime Fiction
Publisher: Allen and Unwin/Faber Fiction
Published: 25th October 2017
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 176
Price: $24.99
Synopsis: A second collection of short stories from P.D. James. Six further stories are published together for the first time in a beautiful hardback edition.
As a companion volume to The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories, a further six of P. D. James’s ingenious short stories are published here together for the first time.

As the six murderous tales unfold, the dark motive of revenge is revealed at the heart of each. Bullying schoolmasters receive their comeuppance, unhappy marriages and childhoods are avenged, a murder in the small hours of Christmas Day puts an end to the vicious new lord of the manor, and, from the safety of his nursing home, an octogenarian exerts exquisite retribution.

The punishments inflicted on the guilty are fittingly severe, but here they are meted out by the unseen forces of natural justice rather than the institutions of the law. Once again, P. D. James shows her expert control of the short-story form, conjuring motives and scenarios with complete conviction, and each with a satisfying twist in the tail.

Author bio:
P. D. James (1920-2014) was born in Oxford and educated at Cambridge High School for Girls. From 1949 to 1968 she worked in the National Health Service and subsequently in the Home Office, first in the Police Department and later in the Criminal Policy Department. All that experience was used in her novels. She was a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and of the Royal Society of Arts and served as a Governor of the BBC, a member of the Arts Council, where she was Chairman of the Literary Advisory Panel, on the Board of the British Council and as a magistrate in Middlesex and London. She was an Honorary Bencher of the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple. She won awards for crime writing in Britain, America, Italy and Scandinavia, including the Mystery Writers of America Grandmaster Award and The National Arts Club Medal of Honor for Literature (US). She received honorary degrees from seven British universities, was awarded an OBE in 1983 and was created a life peer in 1991. In 1997 she was elected President of the Society of Authors, stepping down from the post in August 2013.
~*~

Sleep No More is a post-humus collection of short fiction by P.D. James. These six short stories hold dark motives within the characters, with revenge at the heart of the cries. A bullying schoolmaster gets comeuppance years in the making, and unhappy childhoods and marriages are avenged, whilst a Christmas murder ends the life of the new lord of the manor, and an elderly man in a nursing home reveals deep, dark secrets that lead to blackmail and retribution. In each of these stories, the psychology of the murder is explored, and each person linked to the dead becomes a suspect. In a series of stories where the narrator, suspect or blackmailer appears to know more than they let on, these stories are chilling and make you think, and question what you know from the information presented to you in the story. Each story is chilling and surprising, and keeps the reader guessing.

It is always a challenge reviewing a short story collection – often because knowing whether to comment on each story individually, or the collection as a whole and whether or not each story is related or interconnected are things to be considered in the review. With Sleep No More, each story is its own creepy, spine tingling, and sleep stealing entity, where killers hide in plain sight, and where justice it seems, might not be doled out, and the abundance of suspects, or lack or witnesses, ensures a disturbing mystery for all involved. In these stories, the idea that justice is meted out by those wronged by those they murder rather than the justice system of police officers, who play a rather peripheral role, is dealt with in an interesting way. This kind of justice, whilst might be seen as justified, questions the ethics and morality of the characters and the reader, whom, as with some of Roald Dahl’s stories, sympathises and empathises with the characters wronged and who gained revenge, and at the same time, celebrates these acts as justified based on what the reader has been told.

They pose the question – what is justice and who deserves to mete it out, and how? In these stories, it is not the justice system people put their trust in to do so, but take their own actions to achieve justice.

Over the years that P.D. James wrote these stories, they appeared in different publications, sometimes under different titles, but now, they are collected together, linked by murder and nefarious secrets that the narrators have, that are hinted at, with great skill at creating a mystery where the true killer may not be revealed, and at presenting two different perspectives in first person, as in the Christmas themed story.

Fans of PD.D James and crime will enjoy these short stories, for their unique way of looking at how one can get away with a crime, and what that person or people might do to ensure they’re never caught.

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The Green Mill Murder by Kerry Greenwood (Phryne Fisher #5)

Title: The Green Mill Murder

Author: Kerry Greenwood

Genre: Crime

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: February 2005

Format: Paperback

Pages: 276

Price: $22.95

Synopsis: Phryne Fisher’s fifth mystery intrigues with excitement, glamour, murder, dance halls and blackmail.

Dancing divinely through the murder and mayhem of her fifth adventure, the elegant Phryne Fisher remains unflappable.

Gorgeous in her sparkling lobelia-coloured georgette dress, delighted by her dancing skill, pleased with her partner and warmed by the admiring regard of the banjo player, Miss Phryne Fisher had thought of tonight as a promising evening at the hottest dancehall in town, the Green Mill.

But that was before death broke in. In jazz-mad 1920s Melbourne, Phryne finds there are hidden perils in dancing the night away like murder, blackmail and young men who vanish.

Phryne Fisher’s fifth adventure leads to smoke-filled clubs, a dashingly handsome band leader, some fancy flying indeed across the Australian Alps and a most unexpected tryst with a gentle stranger.

Independent, wealthy, spirited and possessed of an uninhibited style that makes every one move out of her way and stand gawking a full five minutes after she walks by Phryne Fisher is a woman who gets what she wants and has the good sense to enjoy every minute of it!’ Davina Bartlett, Geelong Times

~*~

In her fifth adventure, Phryne finds herself dancing her feet away at a dance marathon where the prize on offer, a car, would ensure a wonderful future for the winner. A night of what began as frivolous dancing, ends in murder, and Phryne is drawn into the case yet again, assisting Detective Inspector Jack Robinson as she endeavours to uncover the murderer, and another case, involving a returned serviceman, whose noted absence has caused quite some alarm in the family. Following the trail of the case to help a young couple caught up in the confusion, and taking on more work to track down the serviceman, Phryne’s adventures yet again see her tango with death and danger, all whilst maintaining the elegance and with the same gusto and exuberance that strikes fear into the heart of her maid, Dot. Phryne must use all of her talents to solve this one, and ensure the best outcome for all.

The late 1920s, with the world on the brink of The Great Depression, half a decade away from Hitler rising to power in Germany, and a decade out from what would become The Second World War, Phryne’s world is one of uncertainty for some, a generation scarred and tainted by a war that took thousands of lives, eloquently shows the divide between classes at the time, and drops hints at the political situation of the time – where Communism was feared, and where women like Phryne were a mystery, a shock and an interest to many. In each story, Kerry Greenwood has shown this world as it was – not in an idealised way, but in a way that touches on the discomfort felt during these times in an accessible way to a modern audience. Phryne’s cases often involve everyday people, unlike the Rowland Sinclair series, which is steeped in even more history and politics, as well as murder during the 1930s, but this works for the series, and each story can be read in isolation or consecutively from one through to twenty. It is a delightful series, and the fifth novel is no exception, taking Phryne to greater heights as she flies over the Australian Alps to solve a case.

Here, she spends time with the missing serviceman, and encounters a wombat with a one track mind when it comes to potatoes – a fact that might just come in handy later. Stuck in the wilderness of the Alps, Phryne must band together with Vic, the ex-serviceman to survive and arrive home in one piece to hear about Dot’s outing to a ball with her beau, Constable Hugh Collins.

In true Phryne style, she tackles brothers pushed to the brink by mothers, mothers who are good at putting on a show to manipulate people, and a host of other characters from the grateful and understanding to the harried and snarky, whose attitudes do little to worry and distract Phryne, whose ability to adjust her behaviour and speech patterns from class to class, and city to country, makes her somewhat of a chameleon. Phryne gets better and somewhat naughtier with each book, and she always finds herself in the wrong place at the right time, much to the horror of her maid and most of the police force, apart from Jack, who seems quite taken with her guts and bravery, and willingness to help out. Where the police often cannot got, Phryne does, and she certainly helps them solve the cases in each book, and ensures the best outcome possible.

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein

the pearl thief.jpg

Title: The Pearl Thief

Author: Elizabeth Wein

Genre: Children’s/YA Historical Fiction

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Published: 1st July, 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 408

Price: $16.99

Synopsis: 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.

~*~

The Pearl Thief is set in England in 1938, in the year that preceded the incoming storm of World War Two, preceding Hitler’s march across Europe, and it’s characters show no indication that they are aware of the impending threat to their lives. Julie is on her way home from boarding school – a final summer at her family’s ancestral home before it becomes a school On her way hoe, Julie is attacked, and a well known archivist from London goes missing, presumed dead. And it is the McEwen family, a family of Travellers, who become caught up in the mystery after taking care of Julie and getting her to hospital. When Julie notices the family pearls have gone missing, she tries to piece together the night she was attacked, and slowly, a mystery unfolds. Whilst the investigation surges on, even with a lack of evidence, the suspicious eye is cast over the McEwens, despite Julie’s protestations that they could not have done it, questioning the reasoning everyone has. Amidst all this, the treasure trove of Murray pearls has gone missing, and Julie is determined to find it, and together with her brother, Jamie, and the McEwens, she strives to solve the theft – and a murder, with results that are as surprising as the rest of the novel.

For Julie, it is a final childhood summer, where she can relive the good memories and make some new ones, but at the same time, new discoveries about her mother and the McEwens, and her interactions with Ellen and her brother, have Julie questioning what she knows about herself and her feelings, but the world that she has known in comparison to Ellen’s world, and what they learn from each other through their new-found friendship. Like any friends, they had their disagreements on things and it took them a while to see that what something meant to Ellen, meant something different to Julie and vice versa, encapsulating the formation of an unexpected friendship between the two girls.

There are moments when the novel does not dwell on the mystery of the missing pearls and murder of the archivist, but rather, on the formation of the relationships between Julie and the Travellers, and how this begins to affect her and how she sees herself and the world. This character development ensures a solid grounding for the story, and even though the mystery was intriguing, it was nice to see the realistic approach that didn’t involve the obsessive nature and drive to solve the mystery, but rather, a nice balance between getting the characters and plot right to get from beginning to end, and allowing the characters to overcome hurdles and distractions, but ultimately, solving a mystery that had a very unexpected outcome, and an enjoyable journey to get there as a reader.

The Pearl Thief is marketed towards the children’s and Young Adult market, but I still enjoyed it and the setting that seemed to sing from every page – the Scottish landscape, and the speech of the characters cemented the time and place effectively. A great novel for anyone who likes mysteries, adventure and intriguing characters.

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