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Thursday 24 December 2015

‘Murder on Sea’ by Julie Wassmer

Published by Constable,
1 October 2015.
ISBN: 978-1-4721-1912-4

Pearl Nolan owns and runs the Whitstable Pearl, a popular seafood restaurant in the south-east coast seaside resort. She started the Whitstable Pearl some years ago when she was left as a single parent and had to provide for her infant son, Charlie. However, Charlie is grown up now and living in Berlin and Pearl wishes to fulfil the ambition she had abandoned so many years ago: she wants to become a detective. She knows it is too late for her to achieve success in the police force, so she has started her own detective agency. So far, the detective agency has not proved to be very profitable, mainly because Pearl does not wish to take on divorce cases with all the boredom of long stake-outs. However, some months ago, she had collaborated with the police in a successful murder investigation and this had brought her into contact with Detective Chief Inspector Mike McGuire.

Several of Pearl's friends and neighbours have received strange, anonymous messages in cheap Christmas cards. The messages are insulting rather than threatening but they have cause upset and outrage because they all pinpoint the recipient's weakest character trait. Pearl is intrigued but refuses to investigate. She has promised herself not to take on any more cases before Christmas, because she needs to concentrate on the restaurant and to prepare for the celebrations, especially as Charlie is due home on Christmas Eve.

Pearl has not heard from DCI McGuire for several months. She sends him a Christmas card, which encourages him to get back into contact with her. He accompanies Pearl to a Church fundraiser, just in time to be a witness (along with Pearl and many other Whitstable residents) of the murder by poisoning of accountant Diana Marshall. Because he is a witness, McGuire cannot officially investigate the crime, but, because he despises the Senior Investigating Officer assigned to the case, he allows himself to be drawn into an unofficial investigation alongside Pearl.

It seems probable that the anonymous letters have some connection to Diana's murder, but, as the death toll rises, the connection becomes less clear. All that is certain is that a very dangerous and desperate killer is active in Whitstable.

Murder on Sea is the second of the Whitstable Pearl mysteries. It is an engaging cosy crime novel, with a cast of likeable characters, most notable of whom is Pearl's mother, the eccentric, talented and warm-hearted Dolly. The thread of romance that runs through the book is carefully balanced and augments rather than disrupts the detective action. The investigation ends with a Poirot style gathering of the suspects in Pearl's home on Christmas Eve. Pearl is a delightful heroine, a fascinating mixture of adventurous, imaginative and pragmatic. Murder on Sea is an enjoyable seasonal murder mystery; an excellent Christmas read.
Reviewer: Carol Westron

Julie Wassmer is a television drama writer who contributed for almost twenty years to the popular BBC series EastEnders. She published her autobiography More Than Just Coincidence in 2010, in which she describes finding her long-lost daughter after an astonishing twist of fate. It was voted Mumsnet book of the year. The Whitstable Pearl Mystery is the first in her series of crime novels, involving multi-tasking private detective-come-restauranteur, Pearl Nolan. Julie lives in Whitstable and is well known for her environmental campaigning.

Carol Westron is a successful short story writer and a Creative Writing teacher.  She is the moderator for the cosy/historical crime panel, The Deadly Dames.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  The Terminal Velocity of Cats is the first in her Scene of Crimes novels, was published July 2013. Her second book About the Children was published in May 2014.

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