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!