Julie Wassmer’s big-hearted crime novel, The Whitstable Pearl Mystery, reads like a love-letter to the seaside town of Whitstable, infused as it it with deft touches of local colour that can only be painted by someone who knows the area intimately. The very sea-air permeates the novel, bestrewn with vivid depictions of seaside beach-huts, thronging Oyster Festival hordes, and an empathy with the rise and fall of the tide, that breathes in time with the town itself.
Anyone looking for the gritty melodrama of Wassmer’s time as a screenwriter for EastEnders might be disappointed, for this novel is infinitely warmer, more generously-spirited than the television series. If the novel has any flaw, it’s that it perhaps relies so much on attention to geographical detail to give it sense of place, with roads, streets, shops, landmarks, dropped so often that it starts to feel as though the exactitude of the local geography is something of a crusade for verisimilitude. But perhaps this is only evident to those who know the terrain, and it is a meagre thing when measured against the vividness with which local colour is evoked.
The gentle denouement works well, and draws to a close with a pleasing knotting-up of loose ends. There are nods to Seasalter’s people-smuggling past (a key factor also in James McGee’s period thriller, Rapscallion, too), the history of the Red Sands Forts, and plenty of tourist-thronging scenes to ground the novel in a firm sense of the region’s history and its bustling present. Read the novel and inhale the warm breeze of a Whitstable summer.