It's 1966, and Ellie Amadi raises a few eyebrows in the Fife mining village of Hollyburn when she arrives with her young son to join her husband James, the estate factor. Ellie and James met and married when he was working in West Africa, and in an insular village in Fife half a century ago racial diversity, still less intermarriage, is an alien concept. Ellie struggles to adapt to her new world, which is colder than she expects in more ways than one. Tensions arise when her husband tries to pressure her into conforming with the norms of society in which they find themselves living.
The author, Moira McPartlin, grew up in a small Fife mining village, and you get the feeling it was very like her fictional Hollyburn. Setting the novel in the 1960s works very well. It is sufficiently far removed in time from today to allow us the luxury of imagining we are looking in on a Scotland which was simply less enlightened than today's: a Scotland in which sectarianism was so prevalent it left little room for racism. Things are better today, right? Perhaps. Or perhaps not. In exploring prejudice in the 1960s "The Incomers" holds up a mirror in which it is possible to see all too many elements of today's Scotland reflected in an unflattering light. Has the experience of asylum settlers in Glasgow's Sighthill in recent years been any more positive than Ellie Amadi's in Fife in 1966? The book also allows parallels to be drawn between the cultures of Scotland and West Africa.
As the story develops we see Ellie slowly coming to terms with the world in which she finds herself: and it with her. A particularly effective element of the unfolding plot is "The Pairty Line": short sections placed at the end of each chapter, each with a vernacular transcript of a telephone conversation between two of the village women. As a result we can start to come to a clearer understanding of their world view: and chart the way their initial animosity towards Ellie develops into a grudging acceptance. "The Incomers" is a thoughtful and thought provoking book which, despite its historical setting, has considerable resonance for everyone in Scotland today.