Lady on the Loch

Written by Betty McInnes
Review by Cecelia Holland

In the year 1567, the castle in the middle of Loch Leven receives a mysterious prisoner, who turns out to be Mary Stewart, Queen of Scotland. Drawn into the whirl of intrigues around the captive queen are the Gilmores, a local family of complicated loyalties and private ambitions.

Mary herself hardly appears in this novel, which centers on how her arrival on the Loch disrupts and endangers the Gilmores. Their days and acts are vividly drawn, and the characters themselves are warmly realized, from the hard-working and sentimental young man Lachlan and his headstrong sister Christina to the peripheral players, like Maggie the washer-lassie. Details of everyday life give each scene a grounding authenticity. McInnes captures the music of lowland Scots – the novel is awash with “dinna fash” and “wee laddie,” sheets, semits, sarks and breeks – and she keeps her story moving with a will.

This is the kind of book where you know going in that nothing really bad is going to happen to the characters you like, but it’s sharply observed and infused with empathy, which gives it a keen excitement nonetheless. McInnes loves these people, and she has given them, and the reader, a wonderful book.