Book Review – Chance Harbor
The phone rings at 10 p.m. It’s your 10-year-old niece calling from Boston’s South Station. Her drug-addicted mother just hopped onto a bus and left her behind. What do you do? Run straight out the door with your slippers on. At least that’s what Catherine does in the opening scene of “Chance Harbor,” Holly Robinson’s latest family mystery.
Catherine rushes to Willow’s rescue and takes her in as her own. Five years later, Zoe, Willow’s mother, still can’t be found, despite the ardent efforts of Catherine and Zoe’s mother, Eve. Eve’s heartbreak deepens at the death of her husband, and at the prospect of selling their beloved summer home on Prince Edward Island. Meanwhile, Catherine’s marriage is falling apart after her husband, Russell, discloses his own devastating news.
At 15, Willow is angry at her stepdad and hungry to know more about her biological father. Ordinarily calm, Catherine is pushed to the limits of self-control as family secrets come to light and events spiral deeper into turmoil.
Robinson unfolds the mystery in the alternating voices of three generations of women, which means that readers of varying ages will have a protagonist who resonates with their stage of life. Each of these women is believably flawed; they are people you can easily imagine being your best friend or sister.
“Chance Harbor” is a tale of how love can help people overcome addiction, infidelity and abandonment. The book illustrates how the decisions we make can have ripple effects that impact people in ways we never envision. Choices made by Catherine and Zoe’s father impacted Eve. Eve’s choices impacted Zoe, and Zoe’s choices impacted Willow. As Robinson says, “… all of that twining together like strands of the same rope.”
The book’s focus is on relationships between mothers and daughters, but a hint of romance is introduced in the form of a tall, leather-clad distraction for Catherine. But she is not alone; Eve discovers that you are never too old for love when sexy Darcy MacDougall shows up in her driveway to retrieve his wandering dog.
As is typical of Robinson’s work, settings are richly textured to create a finely woven sense of place. Scenes in Cambridge, Newburyport and Salisbury, and on Prince Edward Island, feel so real that you can see yourself standing at a bustling coffee shop counter, or nestling into a cranny in the rocks to escape the wind.
Mothers will find many points of resonance. The book illustrates that while mothering comes in countless shapes and sizes, it is a mother’s passionate love for her children that continually drives her forward, regardless of the many ways she may fail them. As Eve concludes with simple eloquence: “What else could a mother do, but keep trying?”
by Holly Robinson
Penguin Group, October 2015