Teens' Book of the Month: The Pearl Thief
Book: The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein | Age Category: 12+
It’s 1938, and Julie Beaufort-Stuart is returning to her grandfather’s estate in Perthshire for the summer holidays. For Elizabeth Wein fans, that name might be familiar: Julie is one of the main characters in Wein’s bestselling spy thriller Code Name Verity, and The Pearl Thief is the new prequel, giving an insight into Julie’s backstory.
The book gets off to a dramatic start when Julie is found unconscious by the river and a man is missing presumed murdered, making it clear that this year will be quite unlike Julie’s previous carefree summers at Strathfearn. Although Julie recovers physically, she still suffers from memory loss, leaving her determined to find out what happened to her, and how it is linked to the murder for which she may be a key witness.
Elizabeth Wein’s The Pearl Thief is a carefully constructed and intriguing murder mystery. With its picturesque, historical Scottish setting and variety of characters, it has plenty to appeal to Code Name Verity readers and newcomers alike.
We have 5 copies of The Pearl Thief to be won! To be in with a chance of winning one, just answer this question:
What is Elizabeth Wein’s favourite murder mystery?
Send your answer to Sarah Mallon at firstname.lastname@example.org. The competition closes on Wednesday 31 May at 5pm.
All entrants must reside in the UK.
Q&A with Elizabeth Wein
What made you decide to write a prequel to Code Name Verity?
It’s really because I wanted to write a mystery!
I’ve always wanted to write a mystery. When I was about 7 years old and first started reading, some of my favourite books were the Hardy Boys series by Franklin W. Dixon. Together with my best friend in primary school, I made up my own mystery series called “The Churcha Girls” (based on ourselves, of course). We actually wrote one of the “books” in the series, a long, complicated story called The Hidden Treasure! My novel Code Name Verity won the Edgar Award given out by the Mystery Writers of America, and my earlier novel The Sunbird was also nominated for an Edgar. So I have been lurking on the edges of the mystery genre for a long time.
When I decided to finally try my hand at it as a successful writer, I was drawn to the classic 1930s mysteries of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie as models. And I thought I’d like to set the book in Scotland because I’ve lived here for over 15 years, but never written about it.
When I put the two settings together, the character Julie from Code Name Verity, who would have been a teen growing up in Scotland in the 1930s, immediately came to mind. I found Julie’s cheeky, intelligent, witty narrative very easy to create, and I thought it would be the perfect voice for an inquisitive teen “detective” who will later become a spy.
Do you have a favourite murder mystery story?
I mentioned Dorothy L. Sayers before – her novel Strong Poison is probably my favourite murder mystery. It’s the first time Sayers introduces her heroine Harriet Vane, who is herself a successful mystery novelist.
In Strong Poison, Harriet has been arrested and is in prison, accused of having poisoned her lover and in danger of being hanged for murder – the evidence points to Harriet because, as a mystery writer who does careful research, she knows all too well how different poisons work!
The charming and charismatic amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, comes to Harriet’s defence and falls madly in love with her at the same time. Together – with Peter acting as Harriet’s eyes and ears based on suggestions she gives him from her prison cell – they manage to solve the mystery and clear Harriet of suspicion.
I also like that in the end Harriet, having been an independent and successful woman for her entire adult life, turns down Peter’s proposal of marriage. (Although it’s true she does marry him eventually. But not until he’s courted her over several years and two more books, and they’ve worked out a lot of baggage!)
When I was 20, I pretty much wanted to be Harriet Vane when I grew up.
What other periods of history would you like to write about in future books?
I am a big fan of Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman Britain books, and someday I’d like to write something set in the Roman Empire. Although I suppose my early Arthurian books come close to doing this already!
Perhaps even more than that, though, I’d like to write about the Roaring 20s. I’m attracted to the Jazz Age and to the “Golden Age of Flight,” the time between the Wars when early aviation routes were being explored. I’m interested in pioneering aviators, and particularly fascinated by people who faced difficulties in breaking into the world of flight: those who had to overcome barriers of gender or nationality or race to learn to fly. Bessie Coleman, the first black female aviator, is a good example – she got her pilot’s license in France in 1921.
I do find I become interested in the stories of individuals almost more than I become interested in historical periods. So it’s anyone’s guess what I’ll write about next! I’m more likely to become obsessed with Mary Queen of Scots and write a story set in 1567 because I’m fascinated by the person than because I’m drawn to the time period she lived in.
Once a character draws me in, a time period comes alive for me. It’s a bit like having a personal tour guide in the past.