Wednesday, May 3, 2017

"The Pearl Thief"

Elizabeth Wein was born in New York City, grew up abroad, and currently lives in Scotland with her husband and two children. She is an avid flyer of small planes. She also holds a PhD in Folklore from the University of Pennsylvania. Her books include the acclaimed Code Name Verity, Rose Under Fire, and Black Dove, White Raven.

Wein applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, The Pearl Thief, and reported the following:
I’ve been reminded lately that my books are driven by character and setting. There’s plenty of plot, too, but the character and setting drive the plot for me. If you’re looking for non-stop action, I am not going to deliver that. But I guarantee you that my slow-burning twisted strands will come together in an explosion of conflict by the end of the book.

Page 69 of The Pearl Thief, my most recent young adult novel and my first mystery, puts you right in the middle of the long fuse. The characters and setting on Page 69 offer up only themselves; it’s not obvious what the chemical change they’re heading for is going to be. But all the elements for the future explosion are there, hiding in plain sight.

The narrator Julie, and Mary, the keeper of a small Scottish library in 1938, are the only two characters present on Page 69. Yet in casual conversation there they mention no less than four other characters, all who will later become potential suspects in the titular pearl theft, one who is already presumed dead, and three who may be possible murderers.

The scene is in the Inverfearnie Library, one of the key settings for the novel – in fact, it’s the place where the plot’s action will come to its climax. This early on, the reader gets a full library tour, entering via the “heavy oak front door,” being led by the librarian “up the winding staircase,” and emerging in the “Upper Reading Room.”

Here, Julie looks around and describes what she sees.
It was exactly as I’d left it the day I arrived at Strathfearn, with the great chestnut library table covered with artifacts. There were the spear tips spread all over the place; there was the beautiful black wooden cup in its silver filigree setting.
The idle reader applying the Page 69 test won’t know it, but the black cup is the receptacle that once held the missing pearls stolen by the thief in the title. The librarian doesn’t know it, either. But Julie does, and she starts asking leading questions to try to find out what happened:
“Who moved the collection here?” I asked. “Did you help?”

“Dr. Housman packed the boxes. I believe the chief contractor came along to keep an eye on the workers who brought them here.”

“Did they bring all of it? Is this the whole thing, the whole of the Murray archeological collection?” I was still thinking about the pearls that no one remembered.
Eventually, in peril and in this very room, Julie will find out what happened to those pearls. The black wooden cup will be her salvation.
Visit Elizabeth Wein's website.

The Page 69 Test: Black Dove, White Raven.

--Marshal Zeringue