"The Highland Lass" by Rosemary Gemmell is a lovely book that works extremely well on a number of different levels. Eilidh Campbell returns to her childhood home on the south shore of the Clyde Estuary after many years in America. Her mother, who took her to the States as a child, has died, and now Eilidh wants to discover the identity of her father. Her only clues are a photograph of her mother with a man in a US Navy uniform who had, presumably, been stationed at the large submarine base at Holy Loch, and a handwritten note addressed to "My Own Highland Lass" and signed "R".
On her flight back to Glasgow, Eilidh finds herself sitting next to a handsome Scot, Lewis Grant, and the two are immediately attracted to one another. Back in Scotland she stays with her childhood friend Kirsty in Gourock, and embarks on her quest to uncover the truth about her parentage. It turns out that Lewis Grant lives locally, and the two are soon seeing one another on a regular basis. But just how divorced is he, and why does Eilidh keep encountering him in the company of his supposedly ex-wife?
The central strand of the book follows Eilidh as she tries to understand her past and find happiness in her future. She also wants to learn more about the poet Robert Burns. In parallel we are given brief glimpses from 1785 and 1786 of the growing relationship between Robert Burns and Mary Campbell, or "Highland Mary" as she was known to the poet and as she would come to be remembered by history. It will be known to most readers of Rosemary Gemmell's book that the story of Rabbie Burns and his Highland Mary had a far from happy ending, and this knowledge brings a certain sense of foreboding to the development of the relationship between Eilidh and Grant. This builds nicely on the aura of mystery that begins to surround the story of Eilidh's own parentage. Some of those she speaks to clearly know more than they are telling, but will she ever discover the truth?
Rosemary Gemmell's accomplished writing draws you through the story, and coupled with the sense of intrigue is more than enough to keep you turning the page to the very end. The characters are convincing, and engage the reader very well indeed. A particular strength is the book's sense of place. The locations are used beautifully. It is obvious that the characters are inhabiting a part of the world that the author knows intimately, and this brings a vividness to the book that really adds to the enjoyment of the reader.