Moray Teale's Reviews > The Pearl Thief

The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth E. Wein
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did not like it

I received a free advance copy of The Pearl Thief through Netgalley in return for a (brutally) honest review.

Vintage mysteries are one of my favourite genres when I need entertaining escapism, I like a quirky amateur detective and a case that's all about the puzzle rather than the crime itself. It's a simple formula but it is difficult to get right and The Pearl Thief fails on several levels. The setting is Scotland, it's impossible to miss it with the superabundance of dialect words and phrases. It's so overwhelming at times that it's simply trying too hard, desperate to remind you at each turn that this is Scotland, with all the semi-mythical associations that go along with it. The time period is less easy to pin down, vaguely interwar, perhaps? 1920s? 1930s? It was never made clear.

My real bug-bear with this one was the characters. Retro crime, even the best of Golden Age crime, isn't known for the depth of its characters. They mainly play to type, representing broad categories of society in quite predictable ways with the eccentric detective perhaps breaking mould a little with his or her particular foibles. It's an established form, comforting in its way to those who enjoy the genre, however this does not remove all restraints on characters, they may not be particularly complex but there needs to be some element of credibility. Julie just did not. She's a thoroughly modern girl transposed onto a past time without any consideration for how her background and her surrounding would have shaped her character. There's a desperate need for diversity in literature but to simplify the experience of bisexuality in this way without any acknowledgement of the uncertainty or difficulties surrounding this issue is a disservice. Sexuality, and particularly sexuality for women in any form, is not easy now, for Julie to accept it so blithely in the early twentieth century is ridiculous. Which brings me to the issue of her age. Julie is supposed to be fifteen and yet not a thing throws her, she is utterly self-possessed, so self-possessed that the way she responds to several events would be a stretch for an experienced adult, let alone a sheltered, upper-class, boarding school educated teenage girl.

Julie aside, the plot would be difficult for any character support. The amnesia trope is never a good move unless you make the effort to subvert expectations, it really is only one step above the "it was all a dream" resolution. It's simply lazy writing because it provides a mystery without requiring any effort and those sudden flashbacks are an easy route to clues that would be otherwise meaningless. The fact that Julie's amnesia apparently stems from a head injury that left her unconscious for several DAYS and yet she manifests no other symptoms of concussion (except when she feigns them) is a medical miracle. With this spurious base the story lost any hold on me that it might have had, it is almost unbearably slow and totally lacking in tension. I found myself having to think carefully in order to remember what the mystery actually was, I certainly couldn't bring myself to care.
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Reading Progress

April 30, 2017 – Started Reading
April 30, 2017 – Shelved
April 30, 2017 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth well said, I totally felt the same frustrations!

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