A woman of her time, Joanne Ross has had a rough go of it. Lovely and dark-haired, seemingly happy in her position as a reporter for the Highland Gazette, she is actually a vulnerable young woman with a sterling set of ethics and lingering loyalties whose romantic history is disappointing. Tarnished with a divorce and left to raise her two children, Joanne finds herself awash in the glow of newfound romance with her kindly boss, McAllister.
While Joanne and McAllister’s developing love is the highlight of Scott’s tale, true to the author’s form is the discovery of a severed leg in Nurse Urquhart’s laundry basket. Over the next days, the gossip about the foot runs around town to the glens and the islands, everyone avid to read the full account in the Highland Gazette. The discovery of the leg (complete with team sock and boot) soon begets a vicious acid attack on Nurse Urquhart. The assault is unusually violent, even for this isolated Highlands community.
The police, the “shinty” community, the readers of the Gazette, and young enthusiastic staff reporters and best friends Rob McLean and Frankie Urquhart try to find the perpetrator as gossip spreads, mostly shared by lovers and players at drinking sessions and fundraising events. Joanna finds herself exploring the recent activities of exotic jazz singer Mae Bell, a young woman whose private life is the antithesis of her public one.
Recently arrived in the Highlands, Mae has become Joanne’s current human interest story. Mae’s husband, Robert, was lost in the War in a plane reported to have disappeared into the North Sea. Despite a huge search-and-rescue operation, nothing was found. Mae has ostensibly arrived in the Highlands hoping to track down some remnant of Robert. As Joanne is drawn into the life of this kindly, glamorous woman, she discovers that Mae’s time with Robert was one long escape from prejudice where both lover and his muse were forced to endure the stares and outright hostility that true love had wrought.
Capturing the flavor of the Scottish highlands in the 1950s—this insular community and its rigid social structures, including the presiding notion that women should be at home looking after the bairns and not be working), Scott lets the story drag on for too many extra chapters in which the reader skates through surplus dialogue in a blur of frenetic reading because we want to just simply and mercifully get the book finished.
Scott certainly has her fingers on the pulse of daily life in the Highlands, building her novel around the identity of Robert Bell, the North Sea’s cold, cold grave, and the acid attack, along with Mae’s requiem and Joanne and McAllister’s bourgeoning love. In the end, however, I found this novel a bit dull and the characters more stereotypical than real. Coupled with convenient flashbacks and spontaneous bouts of revelation, everyone comes across as rather irritating and sometimes even gag-inducing.