“By the time Ursula had finished unpacking and wandered across the landing to Nancy’s digs to see if she wanted to go to lunch, the American student’s room had undergone a dramatic transformation. Her bed was now fluffed up with a squillion-tog duvet encased in a leopard-print cover. There were matching cushions and even leopard-print pillowcases.‘I brought my own bedding,’ said Nancy, flopping down on the newly plush bed.”
– Plum Sykes, Party Girls Die In Pearls
The first ‘adult’ book that I remember reading, or rather really wanting to read, was Plum Sykes’ Bergdorf Blondes. I was 13 and before reading an excerpt from the book in my beloved, well-thumbed Teen Vogue, the only other book that I had that desperate, longing feeling for was Harry Potter. Needless to say, Bergdorf Blondes is a very different book. It’s about heiresses who get their hair touched up every 13 days and wear Chloe jeans and carry Fendi baguettes and party all summer long in places like the Hamptons and Cannes, which they get to via PJs (Private Jets). The main character was a magazine writer who seemed to pen about one story every three months, and even then she would needle her way to an extension because she always missed her deadline. There was a whole chapter about a Chanel sample sale.
So it’s a silly book. But it was such a fun book, and all my school friends and I loved it. It was about fashion and parties and falling in love and not much else. When we read it, it seemed very adult, but re-reading it now it really wasn’t. Think: A more clever, more sardonic Gossip Girl. Anyway, Plum Sykes took a long vacation from writing and is back with the first in what is intended to be a new series: Party Girls Die In Pearls. It has all the charm of her first book, the same champagne bubble heroine and sparkling dialogue and wistful descriptions of dresses and jewels. Except this time, it’s set in the ‘80s at Oxford University – Sykes’ alma mater – and while the heroines and young and lovely party girls they’re also… investigating a murder.
I have no shame in admitting what is abundantly obvious to anyone who knows anything about my reading tastes: I love a good crime novel. I’ll happily read the great 18th century fiction and crafted contemporary stories before diving, nose-first, into the latest Daniel Silva. So imagine my delight to find that one of my teenage-self’s favourite writers had penned a proper, Agatha Christie-esque murder mystery.
The implausibly well-named Ursula Flowerbutton is our heroine, a gorgeous country girl who wins a scholarship to the prestigious Christminster College in Oxford and Nancy Feingold, American heiress, impossibly glamorous, possessing of a designer wardrobe and a perfect tan, are our two pseudo-sleuths. Flowerbutton, who fancies herself a journalist for the student paper, investigates the murder of their posh classmate India through the official channels, while Feingold – who has read all the Nancy Drews on this earth – pokes around from the other end. As is the case in all good Agatha Christie stories, everyone’s a suspect, from the mysterious Austrian exchange student to the dowdy librarian, the lecherous lecturer, the floppy-haired toff who can’t keep his hands to himself, and the gorgeous Porter’s son, an outsider who wants to be on the inside.
It’s just such good fun, like if Brideshead Revisited and Nancy Mitford had a baby that was obsessed with watching old reruns of Lewis. I devoured it in a weekend and desperately longed for there to be more in the series. Nothing has changed, right?