Kidnapped as a child from his home in the Scottish island of Islay, Malcolm MacCourry brought three things with him to the New World: a stone from Iona, the Holy Isle, to guard against drowning; a curse that no MacCourry will love his firstborn child best; and a song. Now country singer Lark MacCourry, born Linda Walker, eldest child of Judge Jack Walker, is searching for that song, dimly remembered from her Tennessee childhood. So obsessed is Lark with the ancient ballad, which tells of a Scottish shepherdess who grapples with the ghost of a Viking princess and wins a magic stone that will give her firstborn the Sight, that even when her tiny plane crashes on a flight from California—en route to a deathbed visit with her estranged father back home—she uses the last call on her failing cell phone to beg police dispatcher Ben Hawkins to help her find it. And Ben turns to Nora Bonesteel, the village wisewoman, whose gift of the Sight can’t help her find Lark, but whose peerless knowledge of rural Tennessee culture can help Lark find her song.
McCrumb’s latest in her ballad series (The Ballad of Frankie Silver, 1998, etc.) is as rich and dense as Scotch shortbread, filled with humor and surprise as it spans two continents and nearly three centuries.