North of Boston is Elisabeth Elo's debut novel. She introduces us to a unique protagonist in this literary mystery - Pirio Kasparov. Pirio is the child of Russian immigrants and heir to the perfume dynasty started by her parents. She's also a bit of a rebel, taking chances and sometimes leaping without looking.
Pirio is helping Ned, the father of her best's friend's child, on his lobster boat when they are hit by a tanker and she is plunged into the freezing ocean. Against all odds, she survives four hours in the frigid water. Ned is not so lucky. And the tanker leaves the scene.
Pirio is determined to find out who killed Ned. She begins investigating on her own - and it takes her places she could not have foreseen and circles back to her own past. The Navy is also interested in Pirio's ability to withstand the cold water.
I must admit to feeling torn on North of Boston. I thought that Pirio was an interesting character, but I'm not sure I ever really liked her. Pirio is quite sure of herself and her abilities, but I ended up feeling like she was too full of herself. The ability to withstand cold water seemed to be a convenient way to introduce a plot machination later in the book. I expected more to happen with the Navy, but perhaps it will in the next book as Elo is going to reprise Pirio and the supporting cast.
North of Boston is aptly described as a literary mystery, rather than a detective or police procedural. (Quite frankly, the ending was more than a bit coincidental and unbelievable.) Elo works many elements into her plot - families, children, parents, lovers, addictions, business, perfumes, social commentary on the fishing industry, environmental issues and more. A few too many for this reader as the story just seemed way too busy. As North of Boston is a debut with a planned sequel, perhaps this busyness was simply to establish her characters and their lives.
The standout character for me was Ned's young son Noah. His ability to cope and his curious nature made me want to rescue him. His mother Thomasina, her addictions and her partying just got tiresome. Pirio's interaction and relationship with Noah as well as her father Milosa were very well portrayed.
Elo provides excellent information and commentary on perfumes, scents as well as environmental problems. Elo's description of time and place were very well done. She is a talented wordsmith, but North of Boston was just an okay read for me.
Read an excerpt of North of Boston. You can find Elisabeth Elo on Facebook and on Twitter.