The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein
Julia begins her summer vacation by waking up in a hospital with no hair and a terrible headache. Initially anonymous, nurses quickly discover that she is Julia Beaufort-Stuart, 15-year-old granddaughter of the Earl of Strathfearn. Her late grandfather’s estate is being sold to pay debts and Julia was planning to spend her summer packing up the house. Instead she had her head bashed in while spending a lazy afternoon by the river.
Julia remembers little about the attack, and in an effort to discover what happened, she befriends Euan and Ellen McEwen, the Scottish Travellers who found her after she was injured. Her sleuthing leads her to believe that her assault is connected with the disappearance of an archivist who is cataloging the estate’s antiquities. When a body is discovered in the river, her new friends become immediate suspects, victims of long-held local biases against the Travellers. With the stakes suddenly higher, Julia must unravel the mystery in order to uncover the true criminals and vindicate her friends.
Set in 1938, the book is mostly a murder mystery with a dollop of historical fiction and a touch of romance. It is also a prequel to one of my all-time favorite books, Code Name Verity. In just a few short years, the young Julia of this book grows up to become a spy in World War Two whose code name is – you guessed it – Verity. So I knew I had to read this book to revisit one of my favorite characters. I was not disappointed. In addition to uncovering the identity of the person who bashed Julia’s head, there are other discoveries – a search for lost treasure; unexpected romance; and learning about the culture of the Scottish Travellers and the prejudice against them. If you haven’t read Code Name Verity, that’s OK – this book can stand on its own. But I think you will want to read all three of the books in this series. Once you’ve started, you will just want to know more about Wein’s wonderful characters.
Reviewed by Roben