North of Boston is a debut novel by Elisabeth Elo. Although a few elements were a little simplistic (i.e., the escape), this is a good first novel in what I hope will be a series. What grabs you right away is the main character, Pirio Kasparov, heir to a prominent perfume company, who is cynical, caring, tough yet sensitive, rebellious.
Pirio decides to do her friend Ned Rizzo a favor and help out on his lobster boat one Saturday. It’s a dark, foggy day. You can barely see from one end of the boat to the other. All of the sudden a ship is looming, not in the distance, but close by. It literally cuts the tiny lobster boat in half. In the seconds before impact, Ned tells Pirio to jump, thereby saving her life and losing his.
Everyone initially seems to think it was an accident. But as events begin to play out, it looks more and more like a deliberate act.
Elo combines an action packed, smartly written story with memorable characters, Pirio, Parnell, a journalist, Thomasina who was Pirio’s roommate and best friend starting in boarding school, and Noah, Thomasina’s ten year old son by Ned. Every character, including the ancillary ones, such as Milosa, Pirio’s father and Maureen, Milosa’s wife are important, given depth and personality.
Elo’s subject, illegal whaling, is something new for mystery buffs. The secondary subplot, perfuming, is also a new aspect to mysteries and Pirio’s enhanced olfactory senses come in handy in catching a killer.
Elo’s got stiff competition in the Boston based mystery genre: Robert Parker, Dennis Lehane, Linda Barnes, Jeremiah Healy. But she holds her own quite nicely.
I’ll admit that I skimmed a page or two when I wanted to move ahead and skipped a page or two related to killing whales or beating up Pirio (my sensitive nature couldn’t handle it), but on the whole, Pirio Kasparov and Parnell could develop into a really good mystery series. Give this one a try.