In this latest novel by bestselling author Sara Gruen, the search for the mysterious Loch Ness monster leads three Philadelphia socialites to an inn in the Scottish Highlands. The story is set during WWII, where the son of a retired army colonel and his best friend, Hank, are excused from admission to the army for dubious medical reasons. The colonel is ashamed of his son, believing him to be lying about being color-blind. After a night of too many indulgences at a New Year’s Eve party, Hank and Ellis decide the way for Ellis to redeem himself with his family is to succeed where his father failed: to find proof the Loch Ness monster really exists.
Mired in the emotional clutter of a directionless marriage, Maddie follows her husband across the sea aboard the
SS Mallory. She regrets her decision to sail into the war the first time she sees a rat on the boat. By the time they reach shore, she experiences such seasickness that it stays with her for several days. Angus, the burly Scotsman who runs the inn, is about to turn away what he believes to be war tourists until he discovers Ellis decided to bring his wife with him.
Ellis leaves Maddie alone at the inn while he and Hank go to Inverness. Finding herself with
no money, no ration book, and no explanation, Maddie makes the best of the situation by reading books to occupy her time. Anna tells her that breakfast will be porridge and a beetroot sandwich, reminding her that food is scarce. When Meg suggests she knit socks for the soldiers, Maddie offers to help with various chores. Meg shows Maddie how to help with the blackout curtains and how to use a gas mask.
Readers will be fascinated by the lives of the residents at The Fraser Arms. The location of the inn in the village of Drumnadrochit is described in sumptuous detail. There are journeys to Loch Lomond in order to record the creature on camera. Readers will imagine themselves in the air raid shelter while Angus fires his gun at the planes overhead.
When Ellis and Hank go over the interviews of eyewitness accounts of the monster, things begin to unravel. No one can agree on what the monster looks like. Ellis is drunk more often than he is sober, while Hank makes excuses for his behavior. Maddie begins to suspects the truth about her husband as Angus watches the three friends from behind the bar. She follows the two of them to Urquhart Castle to confront Ellis, where she discovers they have more planned than just her lobotomy. Here she experiences the full fury of her husband’s frustrations. “The monster--if there was one--never revealed itself to me again. But what I had learned over the past year was that monsters abound, usually in plain sight.”
Writing in a warm, down-to-earth literary style that refreshes like a summer picnic, Gruen works to reveal what it means to be a genuine human-being; from Hank, who deceived Maddie but never meant to hurt her, to the notion of how duty is a necessary part of life, to the idea that love conquers all and, like a mystery, it can be found in the most unlikely of situations. In the end, what young woman wouldn’t hold out for love?