Available Dark

As I’ve briefly argued before, reviewers of all sorts generally like to pretend that they are always clear-headed, wide awake, and undistracted when reading the stuff they’re reviewing.

So, in the interest of full disclosure, I’ll say that I read the first two installments in the Cass Neary series over a couple of days while hanging out at the in-laws and going to a wedding.

Having finished Generation Loss about midnight and being out of town, I didn’t head over to Uncle Edgars or the library to get the sequel. I went the instant gratification route and bought the Kindle edition off Amazon and finished that one quickly too. (The third in the series, Hard Light, is set to come out next year, and Hand has said she plans a fourth and, maybe, a fifth novel.)

Now, I don’t know how either stacks up to modern crime fiction. My relation to crime fiction is about the same as most people’s relation to science fiction: I only know what I see in the movies.

And, while I’m at it, I suppose I should admit I have a fondness for cold settings and a fascination with the landscape and geology of Iceland – though, alas, my only exposure to the country is a few hours spent in the Keflavik airport.

Review: Available Dark, Elizabeth Hand, 2012.Available Dark

This is, except in its villain, is a more satisfying novel than its predecessor, Generation Loss.

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 an “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.


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