Pamela Dorman Books, 400 pages, $27.95
Elisabeth Elo is a kick-ass author, and she has created a kick-ass character.
I wondered at first why she had given her main character, Pirio Kasparov, a super-human characteristic. Pirio can endure for hours in extremely cold water that would kill an ordinary person within a few minutes. Was this a sci-fi/action heroine book? Knock, knock, Marvel Comics? Within a few pages it became obvious that that wasn’t the case. Not that Pirio is a “normal” person.
Pirio is the daughter of two fabulous, wealthy, and famous people. Together they formed a perfume company, developed by Pirio’s model mother and organized by her autocratic Russian father, whom she accuses of having grown up in a “gulag or whatever it was, hacking off chicken heads and puking your vodka.” “You American,” Pirio’s father combatively addresses her. Isa, her mother, died when Pirio was young, and the formula for her provocative personal scent was lost. Pirio works for the family company with her father and step-mother, but her personal life is out of sorts and vacant. “Is That All There Is?” could be playing in the background.
Pirio was shipped off to boarding school when she was young, made the acquaintance of another wealthy juvenile reprobate, Thomasina, and now provides moral support for the adult Thomasina, a roaring alcoholic and fellow lost soul, and her son, Noah. It is this complex relationship that brings Pirio into jeopardy and results in the discovery of Pirio’s extraordinary ability as a survivor.
Ned, Noah’s father, was a fisherman. He had quit his job with a big fishing company and was trying to make a go of lobster fishing. Pirio was helping him (no hanky-panky going on) when their boat was broadsided by a huge vessel. Ned died in the disaster, but Pirio survived.
In her quest to find out what vessel hit them and ran, it becomes clear that Ned had secrets. It is in searching for clarity that Pirio becomes reacquainted with people from her past, including an old boyfriend, also a fisherman.
Elo does a great job with her heroes and villains. She puts Pirio in jeopardy to show off how mentally tough she is. (Thanks, Dad.) She discourses on perfume, the fishing industry, and 10-year-old boys and makes them all interesting. And finally, she finds a use for Pirio’s extreme talent, and not in a science-fiction-y way.