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Available Dark: A Crime Novel Kindle Edition
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|Length: 257 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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People keep comparing this book to "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series, and I am here to just say no. "The Woman with the Jack Daniels and Focalin Addictions" series is far, far superior. Not only is Cass > Lisbeth by a hundred, Hand's prose is > Larsson's (or his translator's) by infinity. Hand is not just a great storyteller, she's an artist, and she brings her world alive in a way that rarely happens in "genre" fiction. The unique combination of setting, characters, and plot will have you checking the internet after you finish the novel to see what's real and what came out of Hand's head. You'll find yourself wondering how she could possibly know about all this crazy stuff, and how she can make up the fake stuff so convincingly. I don't know what to tell you. She's a genius, that's all, and these works are wholly original and without comparison to anything else.
And thus begins my love letter to Cass Neary, the most intriguing and female anti-heroine to grace the pages of a novel since the incorrigible Moll Flanders. Cass Neary is not afraid. Of anything. When Cass watches someone die, she doesn't flip out and book thrice weekly sessions with her therapist to work through the trauma. Cass takes a picture of the body, and a really beautiful picture, at that. Knock Cass unconscious and throw her into the middle-of-ice-desert-nowhere, Cass doesn't wait for a hero to rescue her, and she certainly doesn't die. She staggers along, helped just a little by her BFF Jack and fave party girl Tina, until she stumbles onto a warm place to crash.
That Cass has survived as long as she has is a miracle, and a major part of her charm. Cass's theme song is "My Way," the Sid Vicious version. Through no fault or credit of her own, she's made it to middle-age, through punk rock, 1970s East Village, New York, a violent rape, and her own attempts to self destruct. (And no, that's not an error. Not only is she an insanely bad a$$ female protagonist that will eat you alive and pick her teeth with your bones, Cass is also middle- aged. Do you have any idea how incredible that is?!)
If you're coming to Available Dark a Cass Neary virgin, fine. The story is complete in and of itself, but just go ahead and read Generation Loss. Load up on Cass so you don't get the DTs, because you will not be able to get enough of her. She is addictive in the best way imaginable. Once you've got both books in hand, put your cowboy boots on and hunker down for a tumble through a frozen hell on the back of a strung out modern day Valkyrie with nothing left to lose. You won't regret it for a second, and you might even reach Valhalla. Just look out for Krampus and anyone pointing a camera your way.
Hand's greatest strengths lie in her descriptive powers and her mastery of characterization. Her dialogue crackles, too. If she has a writerly weakness it may be in plotting. Don't get me wrong: the pages practically turn themselves. However, this novel has a few plot holes you could drive a truck through. If I had to guess, I'd say the author enjoys the process of creating specific atmospheres and tones more than she does navigating characters through action from point A to point B. Still, that is a minor criticism. The excellent writing allowed me to see past any weaknesses in plot or pacing. ONE WORD OF WARNING: this series is not for every mystery fan. Cass is as close to a true nihilist as you are likely to encounter in any but the most transgressive fiction. She is a compulsive liar, kleptomaniac, alcoholic, and drug addict. She screws people over routinely and seems to feel little to know remorse about it. At times it is hard to believe that we can follow her misadventures with any sympathy, yet somehow we do. That is another testament to the writing's strength. Readers with any religious inclinations might be turned off by the ceaselessly dark and pessimistic world view espoused here. For those with tough hides, though, I recommend you strap yourselves in and get ready for one heck of a wild ride.
There are more bodies, a trail of them across the northern lands of Finland and Iceland, as Cass Neary, leaving her New York City home before Maine law enforcement can question her more closely about events in the earlier novel, accepts a dodgy commission by a sinister Norwegian nightclub owner. He wants some "esoteric" photographic prints authenticated. They turn out to be beautifully composed crime scene photos, the secret, early art of a now famous fashion photographer.
There's more weirdness as Cass seems, as the novel progresses, to be more than just a "amoral speedfreak crankhead kleptomaniac murderous rage-filled alcoholic bisexual heavily-tattooed" photographer of the damaged, dead, and dying. She has a wyrd and a purpose.
No American hippies here cooking up their homemade occultism in a Maine commune. The menace and mystery of the novel is both more ancient but also more modern as Hand shows Scandinavians trying, with murder, music, drugs, and desperation to come to grips with old and new chaos brought to their land by foreigners. In an Iceland reeling from the black swans of economic derivatives (though there are no scenes with the Viking Squad), Hand gives us bleak beauty (and a chance for Cass to put her practical knowledge of street drugs to good use).
To top it off, Cass hears, for the first time in over thirty years, from her old boyfriend, Quinn. He was the center of numinous attraction for the teenaged Cass. The back story of her relationship with Quinn is one of the reasons I'd advise reading Generation Loss first though it's not absolutely required.
Definitely recommended for those who like their crime stories mixed with something unearthly.