Murder on the Downs by Julie Wassmer – Pearl becomes involved in a dangerous campaign

Murder on the Downs by Julie Wassmer


Whitstable Pearl is a person – a woman who balances her successful oyster restaurant in the town of Whitstable with being a private detective. Pressure is added by her relationship with Detective Chief Inspector Mike McGuire, which is always finely balanced partly owing to her unofficial help with cases of murder in the town.  Pearl must also consider her outrageous mother Dolly and her student son Charlie, who returns from Canterbury for the duration of this book. As a committed member of the community as opposed to the DFLs – Down From London – people who fill the town every summer, when a local issue of a proposed housing development comes to the fore, Pearl becomes involved. 


Although this is a book in a series, I think it works well as a standalone story. This is an excellent portrait of a town’s politics and concerns when there is a real threat to a well loved piece of land in the countryside surrounding Whitstable, as well as the demand for affordable housing for local people. It is at its heart a murder mystery, with plenty of red herrings for both Pearl and McGuire to consider in their different ways. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this extremely well written book. 


The book opens with Pearl and McGuire having just returned from a short break in Bruges, a romantic trip when they promised to find more time to spend with each other in the face of both careers. All too soon they are interrupted by the demands of their lives, as Pearl has to check on her restaurant and McGuire is summoned to work. On her way to work she encounters a protest meeting led by Martha Laker, an activist intent on protecting a greenfield site adjacent to her own house, and Frederick Clark, her uneasy ally in the dispute. When the leaders of the opposition in the form of the developers turn up at the restaurant in the company of an odious council official, Dolly is appalled and Pearl is disturbed to find that her own loyalties may be called into question. As before, Pearl’s family concerns contribute to her confusion in the case, and when a friend becomes embroiled in a violent confrontation her relationship with McGuire seems once again under threat.  When the local newspaper and gossip carry all sorts of allegations around the town and surrounding area, Pearl makes discoveries that will shake her confidence in the town that she has felt so much a part of for her entire life.


This is a well plotted book with enough twists and turns to make it a tense and exciting read. I enjoyed particularly the developing character of Pearl, as she faces new challenges from within a community that she knows so well. There is romance, maternal concern and much more in this fast moving story, when the people closest to Pearl remind her of loyalties and experiences in the face of panic. I thoroughly enjoyed this latest Whitstable Pearl mystery and recommend it to fans of contemporary mysteries set in a solid and believable community.     


I have really enjoyed this those books from the series which I have read so far – this is an example of a series which is getting better and better from an very good start. I understand that another novel is on the way, so this is a good time to plunge into the adventures of Whitstable Pearl and an idyllic seaside town both in and out of season- something which we miss in the midlands!

May Day Murder by Julie Wassmer – a Whitstable Pearl Mystery featuring Faye, a film star

May Day Murder (Whitstable Pearl Mysteries): Wassmer ...

May Day Murder by Julie Wassmer


Solving a murder in Whitstable takes local knowledge, inspiration and a sure instinct for people. All of which Pearl, a private detective who has spent her life living in the town, certainly has in great quantities. Her training as a police officer several years before has given her a background of knowledge of the more technical police procedures, as well as her friendship with DCI Mike McGuire. This book is the third in a series which features Pearl, her colourful mother Dolly, and her son Charlie. Happily this book can definitely be read as a standalone, as the author inserts many details concerning Pearl, her friends and the place itself. Her other business, running an oyster restaurant and catering for events, leads her to make contacts in the community although she is well known already. In this particular book a retired film star, Faye Marlow, has returned to the town where she was born and grew up. Her arrival raises emotions for many people, and the drama proves not to be confined to a film screening. As the centre piece event, the opening of the May Day celebrations draws near, tensions erupt in several ways, culminating in the very public display of a murdered body.


As the book opens, the outrageous Dolly is leaving Pearl in no doubt that Faye’s return reminds more than a few people of the trouble she caused when younger. Faye got a lucky break of an audition for a film in Hollywood as a young woman, and rapidly found a career in America before retiring with her husband to France. Her departure for America was after she had been engaged to successful local businessman, Jerry Wheeler, and abandoned their relationship in favour of stardom. Her return to the area has been negotiated by Pearl’s friend Nathan, working with a young woman from the town, Purdy. Both of them have a great enthusiasm for films, and they were extremely pleased to greet Faye, her P.A. Barbara, her chauffeur Luc and maid Rosine. Pearl is summoned to a borrowed house in the grounds of the Castle, a local landmark, with a lunch she had originally made to be eaten in her restaurant. Meeting Faye she appreciates how charming she is, but equally how demanding she could be as befits her star status. One or two events bring lots of people, eager to see the film star returned, but at least one person finds that old passions arise again with messy results. It is when a body is found in dramatic circumstances that DCI McGuire reappears on the scene professionally, aware that working with Pearl has caused him problems previously. It is a central part of the series, however, that he finds Pearl deeply attractive, and she is also interested in him. It is a sad fact that every time that get they get closer, something happens which diverts them.


This is a book which is very entertaining with a strong sense of place and characters that are realistic, strongly drawn and enjoyable. Whitstable is a community which is central to the story and the descriptions of the place really bring the story alive. The murder is a central part of the narrative, with all the tensions of an investigation and other issues. This is a really interesting series of books which combines descriptions of delicious food, the places in which the events happen and more. I really enjoy the settings, the characters and the plots of these books, and I would like to read more.    


This was a book that I discovered as the daughter’s room was being cleared of her stuff to be taken to her new house. There was a lot of it! Happily as the way through to the selves is clear I am discovering lots of treasures. Not that it stops me wanting to buy some new books of course!

Murder on Sea – A Whitstable Pearl Mystery by Julie Wassmer

Image result for murder on sea Wassmer

This modern mystery of murder and motives set in the coastal town of Whitstable features, as with the first in the series, Pearl Nolan. It is a success not because of brilliant plotting but because of the sense of community in which the crimes are committed. Whitstable is a town transformed by summer visitors, but in the winter season in which this book is set the populace is dominated by a variety of characters, all significant to the plot. There is more than one murder, but the police are low key, and there seems to be no interest from the press or media generally. This dangerous situation is a well worked out mystery, featuring rather engaging characters and some interesting observations on small town life. Set during the build up to Christmas, the small preoccupations of present buying and meal preparations sit rather oddly with the suspicion of death from unnatural causes.

Pearl is woman with a successful small restaurant and catering business who is well known in the community for her charitable and social efforts. She has also opened a detective agency, but seems strangely reluctant to do any actual detecting, even when presented with a ‘case’ by more than one recipient of poison pen cards. Pearl continues to fulfil her rounds of visiting her accountant, the elegant Diana, dealing with the new guest staying with her mother, and doing last minute present buying for her absent son, Charlie. In all her activities and especially the investigation of unfortunate deaths, she is shadowed and sometimes accompanied by the sad and fairly attractive senior policeman, Mike McGuire. He seems strangely uninvolved in the actual work of detection, much of which seems to end up with the unqualified Pearl and her extensive local knowledge. Pearl’s mother, the eccentric Dolly, is less of a dominant force in this book, and it does lack some of the colour of the first in the series.

This book achieves an interesting blend of depicting a small town life, a tentative romance and a non violent series of murders. It forms an interesting picture of life in a community where people know each other, and they behave like real characters. There are comic interludes, especially when Pearl ends up going to a beautician for eyebrow work, which becomes something of a running joke. I enjoy the leisurely unpacking of situations, the self -doubt that Pearl shows as she wonder about taking on the hunt for a killer, the familiar practices of a community in the Christmas season.  This is not a gory, bloody contemporary novel, but a gentle cosy mystery more in the style of Miss Marple than many modern mysteries or thrillers. It is unlikely in many respects, but this is probably one of its strengths as its fairly slow tempo gives a relaxing read, with red herrings, motives abounding, and most of all Whitstable in all seasons.

So we are enjoying that limbo between Christmas and New Year where some people are working, including NHS staff and some Vicars, whereas others are a little confused as to what to do next, with regular activities are resting. Today I went to see “A Matter of Life and Death” at a small cinema which was showing it on the big screen, together with a short but interesting talk about films of the 1930s and 1940s. As it is undoubtedly one of my favourite films, a good time was had!

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery by Julie Wassmer

Image result for whitstable pearl mystery

Occasionally I enjoy reading a book that will probably never be described as a classic, but is a really enjoyable light read, especially for the holiday season. This contemporary murder mystery is a loving evocation of the life and times of Whitstable, particularly at Oyster Festival time. I do not know Whitstable at all, being in the Midlands, but I feel I have learnt something of coastal towns, grateful for yet challenged by the yearly onslaught of visitors.

Pearl is a single mother whose beloved son, Charlie, for whom she has sacrificed a promising career in the Police, is now at Canterbury University. His relationship with his new girlfriend Tizzy adds to her feeling that she must find new activities to fill the gap his absence has caused. Pearl (yes, the name is one of the deliberate bits of humour that run throughout this book) already runs a successful oyster based café with her memorable and loveable mother, Dolly. Dolly has a ripe sense of humour and an extravagant love of life.

Polly, missing her police career, has set up a detective agency which is not exactly bringing in a huge clientele. Her first prospective client is an unattractive man, but everything is put into perspective when she discovers a body. Death in suspicious circumstances is followed by investigations both official and unofficial, as a friend’s background becomes convoluted and emotionally complex. Pearl finds herself becoming attracted by Chief Inspector Mike McGuire whose own grief is affecting his judgement and impartiality.  Other characters may or may not be significant to the mystery, but the lonely Ruby and the suspicious rich visitors begin to confuse the pictures being built up by Pearl and the reluctantly involved Mike.

There are lots of lovely pictures of the community in a small town, challenged by a mysterious death. All is not doom and gloom in this book, as Dolly creates confusion with her unusual dance classes and other high jinks. This is not a great literary book, and in particular there are inconsistencies of character and unlikely coincidence which make the outcome of the mysteries frustrating. Also, I found Pearl’s involvement a little unrealistic, given that her detective experience would have been limited.

This is an enjoyable read, which maintained my interest despite its unevenness. I am looking forward to reading the other two paperbacks I have tracked down, and hope to find out more about Whitstable and its inhabitants.

Meanwhile life in the Midlands continues busy as ever. A recent birthday for Northernvicar meant a huge treat for over sixty people on a steam hauled train followed by a fish and chip meal and party. No oysters though!