#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · historical fiction · new release

New Release Book Review: The Pearl Thief by Fiona McIntosh

Title: The Pearl Thiefthe pearl thief small

Author: Fiona McIntosh

Published: October 29th 2018

Publisher: Penguin Books Australia

Pages: 512

Genres: Fiction, Historical

RRP: $32.99

Rating: 4.5 stars

Severine Kassel is asked by the Louvre in 1963 to aid the British Museum with curating its antique jewellery, her specialty. Her London colleagues find her distant and mysterious, her cool beauty the topic of conversations around its quiet halls. No one could imagine that she is a desperately damaged woman, hiding her trauma behind her chic, French image.

It is only when some dramatic Byzantine pearls are loaned to the Museum that Severine’s poise is dashed and the tightly controlled life she’s built around herself is shattered. Her shocking revelation of their provenance sets off a frenzied hunt for Nazi Ruda Mayek.

Mossad’s interest is triggered and one of its most skilled agents comes out of retirement to join the hunt, while the one person who can help Severine – the solicitor handling the pearls – is bound by client confidentiality. As she follows Mayek’s trail, there is still one lifelong secret for her to reveal – and one for her to discover.

From the snowy woodlands outside Prague to the Tuileries of Paris and the heather-covered moors of Yorkshire comes a confronting and heart-stopping novel that explores whether love and hope can ever overpower atrocity in a time of war and hate.


Take a historical adventure with accomplished Australian novelist and historical fiction specialist, Fiona McIntosh. In The Pearl Thief, McIntosh sweeps readers away to war-torn Prague, Paris, 1960s London and the breathtaking Yorkshire moors. It is a journey and a half, filled with moments of heart stopping survival, devastating choices, realisation, acceptance, love and hope.

In The Pearl Thief, ‘a predator becomes prey’, which is an exciting introduction to the latest release from Fiona McIntosh. Severine Kassel is the lady of this tale. Severine receives a secondment from her employer, the Louvre in Paris, to join the British Museum. Recently, a devastating set of pearls have emerged from the ashes of World War II. As Severine is a well respected specialist in the field of antique jewellery, she is naturally the most obvious figure to examine to pearls. However, underneath the veneer Severine has carefully built for herself as a cool and mysterious antique specialist, when the layers are chipped back, what surfaces is a desperately hurt and damaged woman. The Byzantine pearls are a devastating link to Severine’s tragic past. It is a past Severine has tried hard to forget. However, the appearance of the pearls signals a new chapter in Severine’s life, she must confront the man who took both the pearls and her family from her, Nazi Ruda Mayek. Moments of espionage define The Pearl Thief, which comes in the form of a Mossad agent, who becomes Severine’s ally. One final piece to this sad family puzzle is about to be revealed, thanks to the cat and mouse chase to capture Ruda Mayek.

I’ve really been looking forward to The Pearl Thief, it is one of my most anticipated reads of 2018 and it is nice to send the year out on a high with this wonderful historical fiction narrative. When Fiona McIntosh was touring in 2016 to promote her novel The Chocolate Tin, I first heard about her plans to write The Pearl Thief. This included the research she had already undertaken to get the ball rolling in writing this novel. Now, two years later, The Pearl Thief has arrived and gosh was this an unforgettable read!

Those who closely follow the work of Fiona McIntosh will know just how seriously she takes her writing and historical research. The Pearl Thief has been years in the making and has been shaped by first hand visits to the amazing locales featured in the novel, along with rounds of meticulous research. As always with Fiona McIntosh, the end product of all her research is a book that manages to balance careful historical fact and new details, all within a wholly engaging narrative. In The Pearl Thief, expect to learn much about Prague and the Czechoslovakian experience of World War II, the vital role of the Kindertransport initiative and the work of Mossad agents in post World War II to capture war criminals. My most favourite part of the book was the work conducted by Severine,  her career as a museum curator of antiques, with a specialisation of jewellery was incredibly enlightening. I loved this section of the narrative very much.

McIntosh has a knack for including plenty of intriguing locales in her novels that are vivid and well drawn. The Pearl Thief is a very good example of McIntosh’s expertise in this area. As a result, we are transported to Prague as the Nazi war machine hits, through to the stunning streets of Paris, bustling London and the breathtaking beauty of the Yorkshire moors. In each locale the stage is set up to perfection, adding to the rich atmosphere and tension of the novel.

Characterisation seems effortless to Fiona McIntosh. Each and every character featured in The Pearl Thief is carefully carved out. Severine, the lead of the tale, is stretched and pulled in many different directions, but we still receive a very clear picture of her innermost thoughts. Initially, Severine was presented as cold, distanced and aloof. She quickly grew on me and as her tragic story was uncovered. I felt nothing but sheer admiration for her. Severine’s spirit is strong and she is a determined young woman, despite her setbacks! Alongside Severine we have two men vying for her affections, I liked both these figures, who were outlined incredibly well by McIntosh. I liked how their own side stories were linked to the events in the novel and they added an essential blanket layer to this intriguing narrative. In Ruda Mayek, McIntosh has crafted the ultimate bad guy! Readers will appreciate all this character’s storyline has to offer.

Over the years I have indulged in plenty of World War II based novels. It always amazes me when I come across  a segment of the war that I was not previously aware of. I would like to extend my thanks to Fiona McIntosh for drawing my attention to the important work of those who risked their lives to save the young through the Kindertransport system. Likewise, I have nothing  but respect for those who survived the atrocities of war, lost everything and still helped to bring war criminals justice.  I pause for a moment to appreciate their legacy.

I can think of no other writer to approach the topics presented in The Pearl Thief with such intelligence, insight and respect. Fiona McIntosh has outdone herself yet again, especially with that last hour twist! Thank you for your Christmas gift of The Pearl Thief.

The Pearl Thief by Fiona McIntosh was published on October 29th 2018 by Penguin Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Pearl Thief, Fiona McIntosh, visit here.

The Pearl Thief is book #151 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge




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