Elaine Kozak has done many things in her life but found her true vocation making wine for almost twenty years at a small estate winery she established with her husband on Canada’s west coast. She set out to write a memoir about winegrowing but somewhere along the line the book turned into vineyard mystery titled Root Causes and opened up a whole new world as a writer for her. Her new work, a family drama set in New Mexico titled The Lighthouse, has just been published. Elaine and her husband now live in Victoria, Canada.
“Kozak writes well, skillfully managing characterization, plot and dialogue.”
– Kirkus Reviews
After her boyfriend is killed, a Canadian woman finds herself in danger and must unravel secrets from his past in Kozak’s debut mystery.
Clare Tamm is not a colorful woman. Tall and plain, she wears suits in neutral colors with white blouses, works in an accounting firm and looks forward mainly to financial independence. When she first starts dating Leo Barsoni, she notes, “I wondered at Leo’s lack of sexual interest in me, but wasn’t surprised.” The relationship gradually becomes more intimate, and after three years of dating, Leo asks her to move in. Leo dies in a car crash, and Clare believes her life “would revert to the dull plod it had been before.” But she learns that the crash was no accident and that Leo has left her some surprises: a lot of money and some property on South Salish Island. There, she is even more surprised to learn, he planned to start a vineyard. Clare makes friends among some islanders while being threatened by criminal figures; some of the thugs die violently near Clare, which raises police suspicion. Not trusting the authorities, she investigates Leo’s past for herself. Altogether, unassuming Clare is an unlikely heroine for a book with all the elements of a mystery—a woman in jeopardy, a mysterious legacy, buried secrets, money at stake, revenge and murder. But she does become a heroine—in a restrained, quiet way. Kozak writes well, skillfully managing characterization, plot and dialogue. Clare is a careful observer of scenes and people. Her inner spark is so quietly expressed though, she can seem drab. Her big moment, when she risks everything on a “crazy idea,” is far less dramatic than seemingly intended. Many novels would provide Clare with a substitute romantic interest. It’s an interesting choice to let her stand on her own.
A well-written mystery with a strong but restrained female lead.
Publisher: Iguana Books
Review Posted Online: March 17, 2014
After 10 years away, a 26-year-old woman returns home to confront her past and rediscover her family in Kozak’s (Root Causes, 2013) novel.
While in a coffee shop, Leah Larsen does an online search for her parents—as she’s done every so often since running away from home at 16—and discovers that her mother has died. Using what little money she has left, Leah travels to Taos, New Mexico, returning to the family ranch and the prestigious resort that her late grandfather designed, the Lighthouse. There, she finds her beloved aunt and uncle; her father, who greets her with expected “condemnation and contempt”; and Niels, the son whom she’d abandoned after her teenage pregnancy. Another figure, who’s unfamiliar to Leah, is Theo Wilde, her older cousin who tends to the stables. He’s a bit of a black sheep, as she is—a handsome artist who leaves the care of his own young son mostly to his uncle. He immediately feels connected to Leah, the cousin he barely knew, and encourages her to stay. When Theo’s brother Ben also feels compelled to come home to help get the resort’s struggling finances in order, the entire family is together for the first time in a decade. Leah finds herself on a path to uncover deep truths about her own past and her family’s complicated history, all while experiencing motherhood and a surprising new romance. Throughout this novel, Kozak pays particular attention to setting, surrounding her characters with gorgeous mountain scenery and a ranch that’s layered with memories of departed family members; Leah can feel her grandfather’s presence, for instance, “rippling” beneath the walls. The family’s extensive wealth and privilege lowers the stakes, at times—there’s an embezzlement subplot, but there’s little worry that they’ll run out of money—and the book’s unexpected romantic connection may raise eyebrows. But Kozak has crafted warm, inviting, and thoughtful characters here; there’s family bickering, of course, but they mostly speak to one another with fierce intelligence and admirable honesty. Even in dark moments, it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.
A peculiar but engrossing family drama, elevated by truly rich characters.
Page count: 355pp
Publisher: Tellwell Talent
Review Posted Online: Nov. 12, 2019
THE LIGHTHOUSE: Canada Book Award, 2020
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