Henderson threw his prey to his knees. I heard Euan gasp. Pinkie whined and shrank – heavens, what a useless dog. The river watcher cracked two more fearsome blows over the back of Euan’s shoulders with his cromach, and when Euan slumped forward, Henderson gave him a kick in the ribs for good measure.
“Remember it, wee man. I’ll arrest you, and I’ll knock your teeth in if I get another call from the librarian about you.”
– from THE PEARL THIEF, by Elizabeth Wein
There is something both classic and comforting about the way Elizabeth Wein writes. The main character is a mercurial mix of someone simply insufferable in her privilege, and someone rather endearing in her naiveté – coming to terms with her power as a woman, her sexuality, and her place as an aristocrat means that she thinks a lot, makes plenty of mistakes, and weathers through them. E. Wein has a rare talent for writing characters not always comfortable with or sure — she writes girls who are by turns sly and sharp, vicious, and unpleasant, but who turn out to have softer bits to them which are quite likeable regardless. It’s an interesting dichotomy, and accurately reflects all the bits and pieces of people which make them so varied, textured, and interesting to know.
Julie – or, rather, Lady Julia Beaufort-Stuart – has come home for one last summer to the place where she grew up and lived all her life. Nearly sixteen, and released from her boarding school, Julie returns to a place steeped with memories of a beloved – and privileged past. Now that her grandfather, the Earl of Strathfearn, has died, there isn’t enough to go on with. Strathfearn is being sold to become a boy’s school, and the impoverished aristocrats are celebrating one last summer together as they were.
The Travellers are visiting for the summer as well, the Irish-Scottish families who have for years camped out and peddled their handmade goods each summer. It is their last summer at Strathfearn as well – the Earl’s longstanding agreement with them is over, and they’ll no longer have access to the willows with which they made their fishing creels, or the river pearls, which they found from time to time, or the freedom of the land. Everything is changing – and changes for the worse, when Julie, sitting by the river waiting on a fish, is fetched a stout whack on the head. Mistaken for a poor traveler, a “filthy tinker” Julie sees firsthand that there is a vast and vicious prejudice against “their kind” in the community. And when it turns out there’s been a suicide – or a murder? – the tinkers, the Travellers, are the first accused.
But Julie knows her longtime friends are not to blame — and that there’s something deeper and darker afoot in her community. And, donning the graces of Lady Julia – and the muddy jumper, kilt, and sharpened wiles of her less polished side – Julie’s bound and determined to find out just what, regardless, little knowing how high that cost might go.
It took me far longer than I intended to get around to writing the review for this book, but readers who love a good mystery, and who love modern novels of the aristocracy will find a keeper here. Somewhat of a prequel to CODE NAME VERITY, readers may find that the bright flashes of people they’ve met in that book make reading this one both a homecoming and an exquisite sort of pain – but on the other hand, it also gives them a good excuse to reread.
Until the next book,