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Available Dark: A Crime Novel Hardcover – February 14, 2012
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*Starred Review* In this brilliant sequel to Hand’s acclaimed literary thriller, Generation Loss (2007), Cassandra Neary, “a burned out, aging punk with a dead gaze,” who subsists largely on alcohol and speed, confronts darkness nearly beyond her comprehension. Wanted by police for questioning about a death in Maine, she welcomes the opportunity to leave the States to evaluate some photos in Helsinki for a collector. A cult figure for her earlier photography book, Dead Girls, Cass is stunned by five photos of fresh corpses posed to represent Finnish folktale figures and taken by a renowned former fashion photographer known for the flashes of light in his work. But when she goes on to Iceland, on the track of the lover of her teens, Quinn O’Boyle, death seems to follow her, as she learns of the murders of those with whom she associated in Finland. Cass, like this book’s readers, sinks deeper and deeper into the darkness of the unforgiving Nordic winter and the surrounding events, with their throbbing undercurrent of metal music and encroaching atmosphere of old Norse religions. A flash of incandescence counters final threats of death, and the all-encompassing darkness is leavened by a glimmer of hope. Stunning. --Michele Leber
Praise for Available Dark
A hair-raising novel of psychological suspense. This is a series I hope will continue.
The millions who devoured Stieg Larsson's "Millennium" trilogy will not flinch at Hand's dark subject matter... Expect this novel to break out onto best seller lists.
"Cass Neary... makes Lisbeth Salander seem like a model of mental stability... Stunning."
Very, very good…In Hand's thriller, we see what Lisbeth Salander would look like in 30 years, if she were tall, blonde and plausible…Hand is a bonafide literary artist.
"In the spirit of Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo... As the dark Nordic forest thickens, so does the plot. Larsson fanatics may be unable to resist."
"Pulsing with tension throughout… charged with its own chilling luminosity."
"A strong writer. Her studies of artists and musicians are something fierce, and there's a deadly beauty to her bleak rendering of the Nordic landscape."
"Cass Neary could make Lisbeth Salander look like a suburban housewife... A stunning look at a woman forever teetering on the edge."
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"I don't care who's buying the round as long as he pays." Cassandra's cavalier attitude changes when she inspects the famous photographer's extraordinary series of "Yuleboys" (Jolasveinar), Nordic demons traced to the earliest religious beliefs in the area, the photographs priceless in a flourishing black market specializing in the esoterica of perversion. A growing discomfort shadows Cass's every move after viewing the images; as instinct inspires her impulsive flight to Iceland, headlines of brutal murders explode in Finland, the perfectly-ordered world of a genius shattered in a gruesome tableau of battered flesh. Cass navigates the dystopian landscape of an economically-ravished Reykjavik, reconnecting with the elusive Quinn only to discover that murder has followed in a wake of violence, danger her traveling companion, evoking Neary's routinely confrontational response to threat.
Paralleling Neary's emotional state, Reykjavik exists in the absence of light, strewn with vacant buildings and desperate souls. Fleeing a murderer's pursuit, Cass collides with her secret past, enmeshed with Quinn in an unraveling confederacy of voyeurs, a pact of jaded collectors stalking the illuminated death. As in Generation Loss, Hand's sharp prose is as seductive and dreadful as the chemicals flooding Neary's veins, an inanimate camera's eye capturing the fleeting spark of life, the incandescent moment on the bridge between here and there, the ambiguity of perfection and decay. The depraved, the criminal, the indifferent and the mad roar in metal rock cacophony, Cass and Quinn forced into complicity. Provocative and unpredictable, Cass is compelling in her abandon, a heroine with the social sensitivity of ground glass, this time flying too close to the sun, a fate Cass intuits long before her flight to Finland: "The edge where I'd lived for all these years was starting to look like a precipice." Luan Gaines/2012.
Neary is a severe alcoholic and drug-addicted photographer who finds herself unable to look away from dead bodies. In fact, she is considered a famous, or an infamous, depending on your 'sophistication', published artist who is often asked by other artists or collectors of dead-things art to drop by and see their personal pictures of murdered, dead or dying beings. Sometimes, Cassie takes up these requests to share her expertise because the offers include paying all of her expenses. Her drug addiction is expensive to maintain, after all, and she is always broke. (Neary has a wealthy father who helps her when she lets him, but she avoids him as much as she can.)
Gentle reader, there really is such a type of dead-people Art, some of which is displayed in famous museums and art galleries, or hidden in university libraries as 'special collections', around the world, and there really is a huge, sometimes somewhat underground, private market for art works with dead people as the subject, some of which cannot be spun sufficiently enough as scientific, journalistic or artistic. (The police would be very interested in some of these works of 'art'.) Google it on your own, gentle reader.
The fictional character Cassie, because of her own obsession with photographing dead bodies, and in having published a critically-acclaimed photography book called 'Dead Girls' when she was an unknown 20-year-old punk-culture street person, gets a lot of unwanted attention from fans who are WAY more freakier and bizarre then she is. So far, Cassie has been an opportunistic photographer - if she finds a dead body, recent or old, she is driven to photograph it, and she has sometimes arranged a head, or a leg, for a better photograph. She has not crossed the line into killing for a photograph. The people who contact her, though, often have crossed many boundaries that Cassie would not.
Cassie is invited to authenticate a series of photos owned by a Helsinki, Finland photographer Ilkka Kaltunnen, who specializes in the same kind of art as Cassie, by a wealthy Oslo, Sweden resident, Anton Bredahl, who will pay for Cassie's verification and travel expenses to Helsinki. She is eager to leave New York City for awhile, until the murder mess she left behind in Maine is no longer high on the list of the suspicious police (Generation Loss). At the same time, an old lover, Quinn O'Boyle, who influenced Cassie in her chosen line of work, has mailed her a photo she herself took of him (alive). Quinn is another photographer artist of dead people. The envelope is stamped as from Reykjavík, Iceland. No message. What would Quinn being doing in Iceland, and why send her this photo? She decides to fly to Iceland after her job is done in Finland.
Everything goes ok, if kinky, scary wealthy businessmen who are temporarily behaving themselves can be defined as ok, until Cassie arrives in Reykjavík. She is drinking her dinner in a bar near the airport when she sees a television news story featuring Ilkka apparently within hours after she left his home.
Oh oh. She needs to find Quinn NOW - to hide out! Cassie does not have Quinn's address - the envelope only had the Iceland city stamped on it, but Iceland has a small population. Everybody knows everybody. As things begin to come apart, Cassie discovers Quinn has been a bad boy, and asking questions about him puts her into another mess. Unfortunately, pictures of dead bodies are sometimes dead bodies made dead by murder.
'Available Dark' is well-written and it has the usual genre elements of a noir mystery, but darker. Of course, with such amoral and immoral criminal protagonists (Cassie is as moral as she can be, given her issues, and acts as a vengeful nemesis sometimes) I think the kind of audience who would feel most comfortable with this series are those who enjoy dark Manga graphic novels along with dark noir mysteries. I do not think it crosses into murder porn, though, as so much of Manga Art does (for the record, Manga porn of any kind is too much for me). It is a book simply about murder, gentle reader; but I am beginning to suspect the author is, perhaps ironically, in a literary exercise, showing us mystery readers our true interest in the genre more unmasked than usual. Yes, I am shocked - but by my dawning realization at the author's intelligent smirking joke directed at her readers - and herself - at our own morbid fascination with death.