Boston fisherman, U.S. Naval researchers, Inuit natives of the Arctic, environmentalists, and perfume industry executives make up an array of characters diverse enough to provide fodder for at least a few separate books, but in North of Boston, the debut novel by Elisabeth Elo, they're twisted together into a single intriguing storyline.
Elo's heroine is Pirio Kasparov, a first-generation American who is heiress to the perfume empire her Russian parents built. In spite of the more glamorous trappings of her life, Pirio has a decidedly rebellious streak to her nature, seemingly less comfortable in the plush surroundings of her father's Beacon Hill townhouse than she is in a South Boston dive bar with her alcoholic best friend, Thomasina. She's a devoted godmother to Thomasina's son, Noah, and a friend to Noah's father, Ned, who introduces her to the world of Boston's fishing industry. Pirio's adventure begins during a fishing trip with Ned, when a commercial ship strikes their small boat, destroying it and killing Ned. Pirio manages to survive by withstanding hours floating in frigid water, a miraculous feat that garners interest from Navy scientists. While she submits to medical tests to measure her body's unusual capacity to adapt to cold temperatures, Pirio simultaneously begins to investigate the accident, determined to find out who is responsible for the hit-and-run and bring some closure for Noah. Of course, as these things usually go, once Pirio starts to poke her nose where it doesn't belong she realizes that she may be dealing with a larger criminal conspiracy than she ever imagined.
Although I'll be the first to admit that I'm not an expert in crime thrillers, North of Boston feels like it transcends what I often associate with that genre. Elo mixes her fast-paced plot with decidedly Noir elements, from sleazy characters loitering on foggy harbor piers to desolate scenes on the frozen landscape of the Arctic Circle, where Pirio's investigation ultimately leads her. It makes for a sophisticated page turner that's well worth reading and that seems ripe for a moody film adaptation a la Mystic River or Gone Baby Gone.
A copy of this book was provided to me by Penguin. All thoughts and opinions in this post are my own.