Thursday, June 26, 2014

North of Boston


Elisabeth Elo’s debut novel introduces Pirio Kasparov, a Boston-bred tough-talking girl with an acerbic wit and a moral compass that points due north.

When the fishing boat Pirio is on is rammed by a freighter, she finds herself abandoned in the North Atlantic. Somehow, she survives nearly four hours in the water before being rescued by the Coast Guard. But the boat’s owner and her professional fisherman friend, Ned, is not so lucky.

Compelled to look after Noah, the son of the late Ned and her alcoholic prep school friend, Thomasina, Pirio can’t shake the lurking suspicion that the boat’s sinking—and Ned’s death—was no accident. It’s a suspicion seconded by her deeply cynical, autocratic Russian father, who tells her that nothing is ever what it seems. Then the navy reaches out to her to participate in research on human survival in dangerously cold temperatures.

With the help of a curious journalist named Russell Parnell, Pirio begins unraveling a lethal plot involving the glacial whaling grounds off Baffin Island. In a narrow inlet in the arctic tundra, Pirio confronts her ultimate challenge: to trust herself. 

A gripping literary thriller, North of Boston combines the atmospheric chills of Jussi Adler-Olsen with the gritty mystery of Laura Lippman. And Pirio Kasparov is a gutsy, compellingly damaged heroine with many adventures ahead. (From

I had high hopes for this book. So much so that I made it the book of the month in the book club I run online. I'm not saying it was disappointing, just that I expected more. 

First, the good points.

Pirio is a great heroine. She's flawed but strong. She's witty, compassionate, a little stubborn, free-willed. All those good things that people love in a female lead. Her quips are fun. She's emotional when she needs to be and doesn't come off as spoiled or whiny. 

The storyline is interesting. I love a good mystery and this one seemed to be different than the rest. Which is true. It definitely stands out and I give Elo kudos for trying to break the formula. This book is often compared, in other reviews, to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl but I don't really see it. 

I'm writing this review after a few months of reading it, but I do remember that the writing was quite excellent. She has a knack for atmosphere and detail. At times, though, I felt it was too weighed down with prose for there to be excitement. I liked the feel of Boston for this book. 

And now the bad news. 

I'm in the navy, and this book deals with some of the navy culture. I'm sorry, but the navy I know wouldn't give two hoots about a woman who survived a cold dive in the water. Least of all a captain in the navy. It felt like that part of it wasn't researched well. That is, in fact, where I began to lose interest. 

The storyline with her annoying, drunkard friend got to be too much. Her friend was someone I wanted to reach into the book and strangle. That's not a bad thing. In fact, that's a sign of a good writer who can create such an emotion in the reader. However, it didn't feel like it served a purpose other than to create depth in Pirio. 

A sure sign of a book I'm not terribly fond of is when I decide it is better to just start skimming. I'm usually pretty persistent and will and have suffered from terrible story lines, just to say I got to the end without skimming. I don't have time for that anymore. I wanted to know what happened, though, so I skimmed enough to know the gist of the ending. 

Perhaps I am too harsh. I would read more of Elo's work in the future. However, if the next project she puts out garners the same result, I'd think twice before reading more. 

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