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Friday, 7 March 2014
‘North of Boston’ by Elizabeth Elo
North of Boston is It’s a substantial read, dark and almost devoid of humour, with so much going on in the background that by the end you may feel, as I did, that you know more about the perfume-making and deep-sea fishing industries than you ever realized you needed to, and dabbled in a bit of illegal hunting on the side. And that’s before the US Navy start to investigate an unusual and potentially useful physical ability. Not to mention the Russian poetry...
But none of the above is done in a bad way; it all fits together surprisingly well, contributing not only to the rich and varied tapestry of the protagonist’s life but also to the development of the well- rounded cast of characters who people this slice of it.
To set the scene: Pirio Kasparov, heiress to a small perfume empire, has had a miraculous escape from a horrendous collision at sea, which killed her friend; she survived four hours in icy water, attracting the interest of the US Navy. She is driven by her pushy Russian father to consider the possibility that it wasn’t an accident, and makes several more astonishing escapes as she investigates.
Also involved are her dead friend’s alcoholic partner and their borderline-Asperger’s son, a sparky old lady with early Alzheimer’s, a campaigning journalist and a whole raft of seamen and hobby fishermen. And the Navy, of course.
It’s not a book to be read in a couple of sittings, though it may keep you up beyond your bedtime once the plot starts to rev up for the climax. The narrative has a number of strands which are only peripherally related to the main storyline; that, and the extraordinary cast of fascinating characters (my favourite was Noah, aged ten and wise well beyond his years) are what makes it a cut above the average crime novel.
Don’t be put off by the first-person, present-tense narration. This isn’t an author trying to disguise an arty literary novel as crime fiction in order to attract more readers, and it’s done with a light hand so that a few pages in you almost stop noticing. It’s a good story, with a lot going on: not the easiest read, but a satisfying one in which the bad guy gets his comeuppance. Though if you care about the environment you may be a tad frustrated by one all-too-realistic aspect of the ending.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick
Elizabeth Elo grew up in Boston and went to Brown University. She worked as an editor, an advertising copywriter, a high-tech project manager, and a halfway house counselor before getting a PhD in American Literature at Brandeis University. Since then, she’s taught writing in the Boston area. She lived next to the ocean for many years and now resides in Brookline, Massachusetts.
Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.