Book Review + Giveaway: NORTH OF BOSTON by Elisabeth Elo

north of bostonIn crime fiction, the protagonists can start to resemble each other after a while: tough FBI agent or military guy or cop or private eye, etc. I’m not saying books can’t be good with those types of characters—it all depends on the execution—only that every once in a while, it’s nice to see a different type of protagonist, and that’s who Pirio Kasparov is, in Elisabeth Elo’s debut, North of Boston.

One foggy night, Pirio is on a lobster boat with her friend Ned when a huge ship comes out of nowhere, crashes into the little boat, and quickly sinks it. The ship moves on without stopping. Ned perishes but Pirio survives, for over four hours in frigid waters before she’s rescued. She becomes somewhat of a local celebrity, and the US Navy wants her to submit to tests to determine how her body managed to stave off hypothermia when most people would’ve succumbed.

But Pirio, heir to a successful perfume business started by her Russian immigrant parents, only wants to find the ship that ran over Ned’s lobster boat. She meets resistance from the Coast Guard and others telling her to just accept the accident as a hit-and-run.

Then she meets a mysterious man at Ned’s memorial, someone who seems to want the truth as much as she does. Neither realizes how deadly the truth is, and how their attempt to see justice done will land them in deep waters, literally and figuratively.

Pirio is someone I took to right away, a woman who’s smart, not touchy-feely, and blunt to her father and friends if she feels they need to hear the truth. Her one soft spot is for her ten-year-old godson, Noah, who also wants to know what happened to his father, Ned.

The prose is full of witty descriptions such as this:

Her dress is cream and pink, a boatneck, small stripes, and some kind of floppy belt. It looks as if it started out in the morning for a 1912 steamship, took a detour to a 1950s garden party in the suburbs, and ended up in a 2013 online catalog.

When Pirio is in the mysterious man’s home, trying to figure out if he’s a good or bad guy, she checks out his bookshelf and has this observation:

*Mild spoiler*

The environmental books are persuasive, but the book that makes the strongest case for his not-evil character is The Elements of Style. What bad guy would give a shit about the difference between which and that?

*End spoiler*

Can’t argue with her there.

The story goes from the Boston area to more remote locales up the Labrador Coast in northern Canada, where the beauty of the land is contrasted by the danger Pirio is in and the ugliness of the bad people’s actions.

The descriptions of the tests Pirio endures for the navy—for the sake of her country, she’s told—are terrifying and hypnotic at the same time. I could easily visualize and imagine the mental and physical states Pirio goes through as she voluntarily freezes to the brink of death while the navy studies her. Did I mention this woman is tough?

The one false note for me was Pirio’s repeated musings on love: how she wants it, how she’s not sure if she’s ever felt it, what true love feels like, whether or not she’ll ever find it, etc. Her longing is clear and doesn’t need to be reiterated so often.

But that’s a small quibble, and I’d definitely sign up for Elo’s next exotic adventure. The press materials accompanying my review copy said the author spent time last year in Siberia and that’s partly where her next novel will be set.

If you’d like to read North of Boston, leave a comment and you’ll be entered in a giveaway of one copy, courtesy of Viking Books. Answer this question: What’s the most exotic or coldest place you’ve ever visited? (Comments who don’t include an answer will be disqualified.)

Giveaway ends next Monday, February 17, 9 p.m. PST. One winner will be randomly selected and have 48 hours to claim the prize before an alternate winner is selected. US residents only, please.

Amazon | IndieBound



  • Reply
    February 10, 2014 at 7:33 am

    As we’ve talked about, this one wasn’t even on my radar until you told me about it. This review is pushing it even higher up the list. Thanks for writing this up. The most exotic place I’ve ever been is my brother’s college house in Isla Vista. He shared it with four other students. There was all kinds of exotic stuff growing there.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2014 at 7:36 am

    I won this book elsewhere, and I wish I could give you my opinion, but I haven’t read it yet.

    Thanks for notification of SPOILERS before you wrote them.

  • Reply
    Susan Stokes
    February 10, 2014 at 7:41 am

    The Coldest Place I ever Visited was Maine,Years ago when it was So Cold..I live in VT now,so I’m Now used to the cold weather .,,Thanks for the chance to win “North of Boston” it’s been on my TBR…

  • Reply
    February 10, 2014 at 9:32 am

    The book sounds very interesting with a strong relatable heroine. Would love to give it a read. The most exotic (and beautiful) place I have been to is Kashmir.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2014 at 9:49 am

    I’m so BORING, but the coldest place I have ever been is right here in my new home of Eugene Oregon. 9 below zero in December. Brrr. I hail from sunny Southern California…we didn’t do 9 below in The Valley.

  • Reply
    February 10, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Basically, I want to read pretty much anything you recommend. This one sounds great, and I have never heard of it until now. The most exotic place I’ve visited would be Ecuador. Camped miles from civilization. I got bit by something (spider?) and thought my leg was going to have to be amputated. (I thought you would like that part 🙂

  • Reply
    Sarah RH
    February 10, 2014 at 2:54 pm

    I love seeing what you recommend. And I agree with Rhonda about reading what you recommend. I’ve found a lot of new books I wouldn’t have heard of if it weren’t for you. The most exotic place I’ve been was the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica. 12 exquiste days! The coldest place was England/Scotland/Wales. =)

  • Reply
    February 10, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    Book sounds great .most exotic Barbados beautiful.

  • Reply
    Carol Wong
    February 11, 2014 at 3:37 pm

    This has received a lot of great reviews and is already close to the top of my wish list. Thank you for the chance.

  • Reply
    Anita Yancey
    February 12, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I have never been anywhere exotic, but the coldest place I have ever been is Germany. Thanks for having the giveaway.

  • Reply
    Carol M
    February 13, 2014 at 10:41 am

    I’ve never been to a place that’s colder than where I live in PA and it’s not all that bad except for a few winter days. I’ve never been anywhere exotic. I don’t travel except through my reading.

  • Reply
    Jody Darden
    February 15, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    Love the Boston setting and the unusual ability angle. Sounds intriguing. Coldest place I can recall was a family vacation into Colorado years ago when we had to get out and push our car in the January snows!

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