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Book Author: Elisabeth Elo

FINDING KATARINA M. by Elisabeth Elo: Book Review

Natalie March is a dedicated physician, perhaps obsessively so.  Her life is devoted to her surgical practice, nearly to the exclusion of everything else.  Her closest relationship is with her mother, Vera, the daughter of a Ukrainian woman who was sentenced to life in a Soviet prison camp, leaving three-year-old Vera behind to be cared for by the mother’s brother.  For all of Vera’s life, she has assumed that her mother perished in the camp.

Then into Natalie’s Washington, D. C. office comes a young Russian woman who tells her that they are cousins, that their mothers are half-sisters.  Saldana, a young ballerina in a touring company, is in the United States on a thirty-day visa.  Despite Vera’s belief that her mother died decades ago, Saldana tells Natalie that Katarina Melnikova is alive in a remote village in northern Siberia.  The young dancer, who says that her mother pressured her to go with the company to the States and not to return to Siberia, asks Natalie for her help in getting asylum.

Natalie is reluctant and unsure what she can do, but she agrees to look into the situation.  The two women part but make plans to meet in New York City where the ballet company is scheduled to perform soon, and Natalie goes to the rehabilitation center where her mother lives to tell her the nearly unbelievable news.

Vera March suffers from MS and is confined to a wheelchair, and she is both stunned and elated by her daughter’s news.  She definitely wants to meet Saldana and find out everything about her mother and her second family.

Then she tells her daughter that Natalie must go to Siberia to meet her grandmother and the rest of the family.   “I can’t go….I can’t travel anymore,” she says to Natalie.  “I want her to meet you instead.”  Natalie doesn’t want to go, but she promises to think about it more to appease her mother than for any desire to meet her grandmother and her family.

But that afternoon she receives a phone call from the New York City police.  Her business card was found in Saldana’s purse; the young woman was the victim of a homicide.  And so, partly to please her mother and partly to assuage her own guilt at not having immediately agreed to help Saldana, Natalie leaves for Siberia.

Finding Katarina M. is a page-turner.  Natalie’s safe, organized life is turned upside down when she reaches the Soviet Union, and she must make life-altering decisions every step of the way.  Her resourceful and strong character comes across throughout the novel; interestingly, the reader can see how the trip and her wish to meet her aunt and her grandmother have simultaneously strengthened and softened her.

Elisabeth Elo’s second mystery comes five years after her first, and it was well worth the wait.  You will be completely caught up in Natalie’s voyages–the one to Siberia and her internal one of self-discovery.

You can read more about Elisabeth Elo at this website.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

NORTH OF BOSTON by Elisabeth Elo: Book Review

North of Boston is an excellent title for Elisabeth Elo’s debut mystery novel.  But it could also be called Here, There, and Everywhere because the story ranges from Boston to Florida to Labrador.  It’s a terrific, fast ride that will leave the reader breathless.

Pirio Kasparav has just survived four hours in the freezing waters of Boston harbor after a collision between her friend’s lobster boat and a huge freighter/tanker.  Both she and the lobster boat’s owner, Ned Rizzo, are thrown into the water, but while Pirio survives, Ned’s body is never found, even after hours of searching by the Coast Guard.

Now Pirio has become a sort of instant mini-celebrity due to her survival in water with temperature no human “should” have been able to endure.  She doesn’t have any explanation for why her body didn’t shut down, but the Navy is interested and wants to fly her down to Florida for a series of physical and mental tests.  Pirio thinks she had enough tests as a defiant adolescent to last a lifetime, but a weekend in sunny Florida sounds too good to miss.

In the meantime, there is Ned’s funeral to deal with, along with the alcoholism of Pirio’s best friend Thomasina, the mother of Noah, the ten-year-old child resulting from the brief romance of Thomasina and Ned.  With a history of drugs and alcohol, Thomasina is certainly not the ideal mother, and Pirio is reluctantly forced to pick up the slack when her friend is put in jail overnight, leaving Noah on his own.

After an interview with a commander from the Coast Guard, Pirio believes that the authorities are too willing to call the collision an accident and investigate no further.   Angry and frustrated by the government’s lack of concern, Pirio decides to look into the matter herself.  “Because if a child’s parent has to be killed in a freak accident, that child deserves to see an aftermath of concern and accountability,” she thinks.  We empathize as Pirio is drawn into the investigation, tracking down how Ned became the owner of the lobster boat immediately after quitting his job at Ocean Catch, as she puts herself in danger while trying to find the answers to give to Noah.

Elisabeth Elo has surrounded Pirio with a group of fascinating characters.  Thomasina, whom Pirio has known since they were adolescents in boarding school together, is a mess–a woman with a genius  I.Q. who drinks, takes drugs, and is available for nearly any man who is close by; Noah, her gifted son, bereft by his father’s death and wondering how the collision between his father’s lobster boat and the never-found freighter/tanker could have happened; the mysterious “Larry Wozniack,” who crashes Ned’s funeral, pretending to have been a friend of the deceased; and Johnny O, a friend and co-worker with Ned at Ocean Catch and formerly Pirio’s lover.  

North of Boston is an exciting read, a novel that’s hard to put down.  In this, the author’s first novel, she has introduced a charismatic heroine to the Boston mystery scene.

You can read more about Elisabeth Elo at this web site

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.