A controversial new property development in planned in Whitstable which will encroach upon the green open space of the downs, to the dismay of Whitstable residents.
A campaign springs into life, spearheaded by a friend of Pearl’s family, Martha Laker. A committed environmentalist, Martha is no stranger to controversy herself. She has also managed to divide opinion across town, with the locals viewing her as their fearless champion while establishment figures see only an interfering agitator.
Tensions escalate between the developers and Whitstable residents, straining Pearl’s close relationship with London-born police officer DCI Mike McGuire, who harbours concerns that the local campaign will spiral out of control.
Pearl’s loyalties are torn, but a protest duly goes ahead – and newspaper headlines claim a moral victory for the residents in this David and Goliath battle. But the victory is short-lived when Pearl discovers a dead body on the downs…
There are some days – particularly at the moment – when all you want to do is curl up with the book equivalent of your favourite comfy jumper. As a crime fiction fan, a good cosy mystery is definitely one of my ‘comfy jumper’ genres and Julie Wassmer’s latest Whitstable Pearl Mystery, Murder on the Downs, ticked the box perfectly!
Although this is the seventh in the Whitstable Pearl Mysteries series, I found it relatively easy to jump into Murder on the Downs despite having no prior knowledge of the previous books. Although there are established characters and personal relationships, the mystery itself is entirely self-contained and characters are introduced in such a way as to make it clear how they relate to each other.
Pearl Nolan has taken a step back from the day-to-day running of her restaurant in order to set up her own private detective agency, although she has some reservations about whether her new line of work will add conflict to the tentative relationship she has begun with DCI Mike McGuire. When tensions over a new property development erupt, it isn’t long before a body is found and Pearl and Mike’s skills – and their relationship – are put to the test.
As with many ‘cosy’ mysteries, there are plenty of contemporary issues bubbling away under the surface of Murder on the Downs. Corruption, bribery, prejudice, the housing crisis, and economic inequality are all touched upon as Pearl begins her investigation into the death of a local property developer. So whilst there isn’t any gore on the page, this certainly doesn’t lead to any reduction in tension, with Murder on the Downs placing Pearl and her friends into a number of potentially dangerous situations. Wassmer has a background in writing for television and this shows in the expert way that she maintains tension – creating ‘scenes’ within each chapter, sowing in red herrings, and providing plenty of cliffhangers that kept me turning the pages!
As someone new to the series, it was a little harder for me to immediately engage with the characters. As I said earlier, Murder on the Downs is the seventh in a series and, whilst the plot and mystery is very easy to jump into, it does spend quite a bit of time examining the burgeoning relationship between Pearl and DCI Mike McGuire. As I had no prior knowledge of these characters, I was probably less engaged with this plot strand than I would of been as a long-time reader of the series. That said, by the end of the book, I had come to really like Pearl, Mike and their community of friends and relations – and I was keen to go back and read earlier books in the series to see how their relationships had developed up until this point.
I also really enjoyed Wassmer’s evocative depictions of Whitstable and the Kentish countryside. Sadly I am not familiar with the area in real life but I could imagine the beautiful sweep of the downs and the bustle of the seaside – as well as all the delicious locally grown/caught food that Pearl serves in her restaurant!
Murder on the Downs provides exactly what you want from a cosy summer read – an eclectic mix of characters in a contained (and, for some readers, familiar) setting, an engaging plot, and plenty of twists and turns along. Fans of the series are sure to enjoy this latest addition whilst cosy mystery fans like myself may well discover another series to enjoy!
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me onto and organising this blog tour. The continue continues until 10 July so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content.