Pertice McIlveen, a young Ontario woman who loves Hemingway and hates hats, receives a mysterious key in the mail. Accompanied by her best friend Es, she travels to Gannet Island off the coast of New Brunswick to find the door it fits into. There she discovers a charming cottage by the sea has been willed to her by a secret benefactor identified only as PM, on the condition she wears the hats that come with it. She accepts the challenge, leaving behind her life in Toronto and moving into Honeysuckle Cottage. As she seeks to solve the mystery of PM, Pertice is gradually changed by the hats she wears and the islanders she meets. With the help of Charlotte, the proprietor of the local bed and breakfast, her artist husband Will, and two men caught between land and sea, Pertice discovers a new kind of grace under pressure.
"I just got a key in the mail."
"A key to what?"
"I don't know. Just a key."
"What do you mean, just a key?"
I looked at the key intently, turning it over and over as if there might be some inscription or clue.
"Maybe you won a new car," Es said, laughing.
"It doesn't look like a car key. It looks like a key to a door."
Es held out her hand for the key. As usual, her fingernails had spectacular designs on them, not the press-on kind you got out of a package, but designs she paints herself with different colours of polish. Lately, she has been working on Van Gogh motifs--sunflowers, swirling stars, black crows descending on golden wheat. When I complimented her once, she said, "Shhh, they'll be wanting to hang them in the ROM!"
"Who's it from?" Es asked, looking closely at the key.
"It doesn't say, and there's no message." Es began to hum the theme from the Twilight Zone. I picked up the empty envelope and read the return address out loud. No person. Just a place. "Honeysuckle Cottage, North Head, Gannet Island."
"Well, that doesn't sound too scary," Es said. "Where's Gannet Island?"
"I have no idea."