North of Boston|
Viking, 389pp, $27.95 hc
Hats off to Elisabeth Elo! Her first novel is a winner on all counts...well controlled (but not slick) writing, multiple, complex and suspenseful plot, and a female sleuth who reveals her strong character and her problem solving skills slowly, without grandstanding. And while Boston is the setting and its neighborhoods are described in gritty detail, a good deal of the action takes place on the water or on boats, from lobster boats to (barely imaginable) luxury cruisers...Boston Harbor to the lobstering grounds adjacent to the city, to the frigid Canadian arctic.
Pirio Kasparov is the daughter of a professional perfumer and has accompanied her mother to far-flung exotic places in search of natural existing scents for her rare, high end perfumes. This fact not only infuses the story with a sense of exoticism but as the plot develops, becomes a major element in solving "the crime".
The book opens with the ramming and sinking of the Gamage (no less) lobster boat on which Pirio is sterning. She is flung into the frigid North Atlantic and is the lone survivor after enduring several hours in the water. As she slowly regains her equilibrium after the collision she becomes increasingly convinced that the ramming was no accident. In the meantime, the unusual ability of her body to adapt to frigid temperatures gets government attention and she's in the midst of being thoroughly tested by our curious federal government ("for endurance in extreme conditions") when the plot thickens.
For a first novel, the pace, plotting and the prose are all a pleasure. And humor is no stranger, either...always a nice fillip when mayhem reigns. After Pirio undergoes government testing for her extraordinary ability to survive lengthy periods in cold water, she is rewarded with a five hundred dollar honorarium and a ticket to Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.
As the plot thickens, our heroine finds herself stowed away in a private cruiser the luxury of which regular people cannot even begin to imagine. The super rich (bad guys) are in the Canadian arctic shooting narwhals from the vessel. Our heroine's endurance of cold water comes in handy here. The scene with the human and the narwhals is pretty neat, even if you do have to suspend you disbelief for a page or two.
Elo's debut is impressive. Pace and plot make North of Boston a page turner and while the characters aren't fully drawn, they definitely garner your sympathy (or antipathy) and demand attention. I'm looking forward to Elo's second novel. Hope she stays in Boston and on the water.