Anthea Logan has spent the last seven years trying to live down the scandal of her brother’s imprisonment. Randal Logan was a chemist who sold secrets to the Communists (I assume the Soviets although it’s never actually mentioned). Anthea left her job as a journalist to look after her devastated mother & took a teaching job. Living in a miserable flat, working in an uncongenial job, trying to keep up her mother’s spirits & ashamed of her brother’s crime, Anthea couldn’t feel more defeated by life. After her mother’s death & the release of Randal from prison, Anthea is determined to change her life. Randal disappears overseas, after visiting Anthea to borrow money, & Anthea leaves her job & decides to have a bit of a spree. She buys a car, some good clothes & books a few days holiday at Balgarvie House, an expensive hotel in the north of Scotland where she spent the last happy days of her life before Randal’s disgrace tainted everything.
Anthea’s arrival at Balgarvie House causes some consternation. It’s a sporting hotel, owned by the local laird, Colonel Garvie, & a single female guest who isn’t interested in stalking, hunting or fishing is a mystery. Anthea remembers Balgarvie & especially the harbour as a tranquil place where she truly felt at home. She has relations at the Manse, the Minister, Walter McNaughton & his family, but they’ve lost touch. Anthea’s real dream is to buy or rent a neglected croft near the harbour known as the Tully. She’s less than pleased to hear that it’s been sold & that the owner is the man she fell in love with years ago, John Gregorson. Anthea & Greg had fallen in love over the Bach Double Concerto but he had broken off the relationship because he wanted to pursue a career as a writer. Then, the scandal had broken, Anthea left her job at a newspaper & effectively disappeared with their relationship & their feelings for each other unresolved. Now, here he is, a successful writer, living in the croft she had hoped to own & it’s impossible to avoid him.
The hotel guests are a mixed bunch. A couple of Frenchmen, an American Senator with his secretaries or bodyguards, Mr Peachey from the Foreign Office & his friends Vida & Bryce Carruthers & Lawrence Vine & his parents. Anthea also gets to know the students who spend their summer working at the hotel, including her cousins Ian & Ness McNaughton & Morgan, a waiter with a presumptuous manner who no one, except Ness, much likes. When a letter of Senator Cleever’s goes missing (dropped in the garden by his secretary Chet Hart while talking to Anthea), Anthea’s connection to Randal Logan is revealed & she comes under suspicion of stealing the letter. Anthea realises that she will never be free of the taint of association with treason if she, helped by Gregorson, can’t find out what really happened to the letter & the money that is subsequently stolen from Anthea’s room.
I really enjoyed The Road to the Harbour. I love books set in Scotland & I’ve been collecting the Susan Pleydell reprints from Greyladies without actually reading any of them. Then, Desperate Reader mentioned Susan Pleydell in her Top 10 of 2015 & said that this book, which she’d just read, was already a contender for this year’s Top 10. First published in 1966, it reminded me of books by Catherine Gaskin (her books are becoming available again as eBooks) or Mary Stewart that I loved when I was a teenager. Beautiful, independent young woman with a problem to solve or a worry that’s preventing her from getting on with her life, usually in an exotic location that’s as much part of the story as the plot & characters. There’s always a romance, & I enjoyed Anthea’s romance with Greg very much. His dog, Dan, is delightful (& I’m not a dog person) & the picture of the village, with the harbour & the Tully is just beautifully done. The mystery plot isn’t dramatic but the combination of circumstances – Anthea’s past, her ambiguous status at the hotel, her run-ins with the Carruthers, Morgan & Ness, her relationship with the McNaughtons & with Greg – combine to put her in a very uncomfortable position. It was a really absorbing read.