This early nineteenth-century mystery-cum-adventure crosses continents, from the chilly but Scottish coast to India, a combination of Dickensian drama and an adventure through the lush interior of an exotic locale. Filled with the arcane details of ship travel during a period of innovation, the complicated musical scores of classic bagpipes and the lucrative tea trade of the East India Company, the heroine is faced with difficult decisions and a good deal of danger along the way.
Newly widowed and dedicated to the care of her eight-year-old stepdaughter, Grace, Catherine MacDonald is living with her brother, Hector, and his wife, the siblings mourning the loss of Catherine’s twin brother, Sandy, in the Indian monsoons of 1821. Posted to the opium fields in by the East India Company, Sandy has disappeared, assumed dead when hundreds of bodies resurface after the floods.
When a package arrives at Hector’s home in Edinburgh, Catherine cannot fathom its significance, the address written in Sandy’s hand. Inside the package is a Kashmiri shawl, a sheaf of musical scores for bagpipes, one titled “Not Yet Drown’d,” and an ornate box of unfamiliar tea leaves. Catherine is suddenly filled with doubt about Sandy’s demise, certain that there is still a chance he may have survived.
Bankrolled by investors, Hector is preparing for a trip to India to test his innovations, enthusiastic about the progress he has made and the potential breakthrough for speedier sea travel. Just before he sails, however, Catherine is approached by a dour woman who has come all the way from Virginia to assume custody of young Grace, the lady armed with legal documents proving the guardianship of American relatives.
Catherine has no intention of relinquishing Grace but sorely underestimates the woman’s determination. Ready to flee from Edinburgh, Catherine is devastated when her ward is kidnapped, aided in the child’s recovery by the American woman’s young black slave and the intervention of an Indian maid who is seeking a return passage to India.
Thwarted by the threat against Grace, Catherine makes a hasty change of plans, bound for India with Hector and two newly acquired servants, the slave and the ayah, who will be of inestimable value on her journey. Catherine’s ultimate goal, of course, is to revisit the place where Sandy was last seen, but she has no way of knowing the obstacles and achievements that await her on this momentous adventure, nor the value of those she meets along the way.
The thrilling chase at the start of the novel gives this tale its Dickensian flavor, but Catherine’s adventures in India reflect the realities of British imperialism. Most fascinating are the days spent traveling through the interior in search of her twin, the backstory of the mysterious ayah and a potential romance that Catherine nearly sabotages. The ship lore and musical scores are sometimes tedious but form the context of Catherine’s complicated life and her relationships with those she loves. Finally, the sense of impending danger and unexpected adventure prevails, India the real star of the show.