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Marilyn Stasio[Hand's] studies of artists and musicians are something fierce, and there's a deadly beauty to her bleak rendering of the Nordic landscape.
—The New York Times Book Review
"A hair-raising novel of psychological suspense. This is a series I hope will continue."
—The Globe and Mail
"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."
—Publishers Weekly (starred)
“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.”
—Lev Grossman, Time
"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."
—The New York Post
“Pulsing with tension throughout… charged with its own chilling luminosity."
—The Washington Post
"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."
—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times
"Cass Neary could make Lisbeth Salander look like a suburban housewife... A stunning look at a woman forever teetering on the edge."
—Oline H. Cogdill, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
"Award-winner Hand... brings her great skill to a mystery series that’s equally dark and enthralling... Beautiful writing and elegant, intelligent style make this a pleasure."
—RT Book Reviews (4 1/2 stars)
"A gasoline burn of a book; but it's also a tightly-plotted noir thriller...Unputdownable."
“A brilliant sequel to Hand’s acclaimed literary thriller Generation Loss… Stunning.”
—Booklist (starred review)
“Fiercely frightening yet hauntingly beautiful, with a startling heroine you’ll never forget… Shimmers with gorgeous writing even as it scares the dickens out of you.”
“Cass Neary is one of literature’s great noir anti-heroes… Ferocious, aching with compassion and cruelly brilliant, Available Dark is a sinful pleasure.”
Praise for Generation Loss
“Rightly compared with the sort of crime fiction turned out by the late, great Patricia Highsmith ... Hand expertly ratchets up the suspense until it's at the level of a high-pitched scream."
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Cass Neary, the battle-scarred shutterbug of Elizabeth Hand's incendiary literary thriller is a marvel."
—Los Angeles Times
"Brilliantly written and completely original, Hand’s novel is an achievement with a capital A.”
—Booklist (starred review)
Praise for Elizabeth Hand’s Other Work
“A superior stylist.”
—The New York Times Book Review on Waking the Moon
“Hypnotic… Moves Hand’s work into the territory of John Fowles and A.S. Byatt.”
—Locus on Mortal Love
“Elizabeth Hand has the written the best book of her generation.”
—Peter Straub on Mortal Love
“As noteworthy in its way as Margaret Atwood’s A Handmaid’s Tale.”
—People on Winterlong
It's a shame, in a way, that Graham Greene brilliantly and decisively utilized the title A Burnt-Out Case for his 1960 novel about a hapless, wounded antihero whom passion and art have abandoned. The title would have been so perfect for an installment of Elizabeth Hand's ongoing saga of Cassandra "Cass" Neary, burnt-out, middle-aged ex-punk photographer, who, in this second installment, after her debut in Generation Loss, finds herself again far from her comfortably sleazy New York digs and involved in shady doings in Helsinki and Reykjavik. After her previous scary outing in cold, provincial, and brutal Maine, you'd think she'd know enough to steer clear of northern climes. But that's Cass: all guts and no instinct for self-preservation at all.
Of course, Hand's crisp, emblematic, evocative titles are hardly shabby on their own merits. "Generation loss" refers to the degradation of information involved in multiple copies of any photo, and that's what the reader symbolically gets with the first glimpse of Cass Neary's life, which has deteriorated from its bright promise with each tedious passing year.
Having raced through her real but limited store of artistic talent in a candle-burning-at-both-ends existence during the late 1970s, Neary has coasted zombielike for nearly thirty years, reaching the age of forty-eight with no ambitions loftier than scoring her next handful of uppers and earning a small paycheck from the Strand Bookstore. But a botched journalistic assignment in Maine reawakens her to life. Tasked with interviewing the once-famous, now-reclusive woman on whom she modeled her own career, Neary instead stumbles into the arms of a serial killer and manages to save the life of his newest target, an adolescent girl much resembling a teenage Neary. Rescuing her own hopeful avatar from death, she herself receives a mild rejuvenation of spirit.
Hand's pitch-perfect first-person voice for Neary brilliantly evokes a damaged soul who is her own worst enemy, working her mazed way through some kind of living purgatory. In her subtle yet thrilling first adventure, which equates pastoral with urban darkness, Neary comes off as an arrogant, snarling, mean-spirited, low-morality alley cat whom you nonetheless instinctively want to adopt, against your own better judgment.
Available Dark — the title plays on a photographer's "available light," the Scandinavian black metal genre, and the darkness in the human soul — picks up hard on the heels of its predecessor. Neary is freshly if uneasily back in her cocoon of indifference and self- loathing when she receives another job offer that brings her, all expenses paid, to Finland's capital. There she must vet some photos for a rich man named Anton Bredahl. She fulfills her assignment and sets off for Iceland, where she has reason to suspect her only true love — a high school boyfriend named Quinn, whom she has not seen in thirty years — is resident. She finds Quinn and effects an uneasy reunion — but then people begin to turn up dead, and Quinn seems to be at the epicenter of the trouble.
Hand layers in the aforementioned death rock scene, Odin- based occultism, and gruesome elements of Scandinavian mythology to create a palpable sense of omnipresent menace in her keenly rendered locales, even when no overt threats are onstage. Moreover, Hand subtly dabs on the faintest trace of the supernatural, when it comes to describing Neary's uncanny ability to sense the subliminal background reverberations from a photo. The ex-artist's stubborn, questing consciousness, vividly limned, is the kind of perverse mentality that insists on peeling off scabs and tweaking rotten teeth with the tongue. But that's almost by definition also the private eye's modus operandi, and Neary gets the job done, despite her willful self-abuse.
Explaining the typical regional failings of her tribe, one of Quinn's local companions tells Neary, "People fell in love with it — with hatred and death, darkness. Because there is beauty there, too, in the darkness?. Some people, they see that emptiness and need to fill it up with even greater darkness."
Implacable beauty amid carnage and decay, waste and loss: that's the potent allure of the Cass Neary novels and their aching, persistent heroine.
Author of several acclaimed novels and story collections, including Fractal Paisleys, Little Doors, and Neutrino Drag, Paul Di Filippo was nominated for a Sturgeon Award, a Hugo Award, and a World Fantasy Award — all in a single year. William Gibson has called his work "spooky, haunting, and hilarious." His reviews have appeared in The Washington Post, Science Fiction Weekly, Asimov's Magazine, andThe San Francisco Chronicle.
Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo
Excerpted from Available Dark by Elizabeth Hand Copyright © 2012 by Elizabeth Hand. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted July 5, 2012
This novel isn’t one that defies description, exactly, but it does make it difficult. Its tone is bleak throughout, perhaps in keeping with the geographical landscape, made palpable by the author’s gorgeous writing. The plot is not complex, but that is not the crux of the book, which is the haunting quality of its beautiful prose.
Cass Neary is a photographer with a moribund career, a woman prone to night terrors, who still indulges in her long-time near-addiction to alcohol and drugs of various kinds, from “speed” to crystal meth [about which I learned more than I ever wanted to know as to its effects on the human body, and mind] and everything in between. Nearly six feet tall, she is self-described as “a burned-out, aging punk with a dead gaze, a faded tattoo, and a raw red scar beside one eye.” The story takes her to the streets and highland areas of, respectively, Helsinki, where she is told “the entire country’s unemployed and on the verge of a psychotic breakdown,” and Reykjavik [also in dire straits, where there can be snow in August and where, she is told, “everything is an illusion”], trying to track down a long-lost friend/lover from her high school days of thirty years ago, and in an attempt to evade both the police and a murderer.
Cass leaves the Lower East Side of Manhattan after receiving a lucrative job offer: to confirm the existence of, and authenticate, a group of photos depicting ritual killings, still photos which could have started life in a snuff film, something called “murderabilia.” There is much discussion about the photographer’s technique of using only available light, the converse of which gives rise to the title. Nordic, Viking and Icelandic religions and myths play a large part in the story line. We are told of “ghosts that didn’t know they were dead,” and there is a quote from the sagas of the region: “Death will claim no man until his time has come, and nothing will save a man who is fated to die. Therefore be bold: to die in fear is the worst death of all.”
There were many cultural references that I must admit escaped me, which were, I’m guessing, linked to “punk” music [“death metal” and “black metal”] and “punk” photography [a genre I didn’t even know existed]. The writing is macabre and disturbing on several levels. This is a novel not easily forgotten.
Posted June 3, 2012
Posted March 25, 2012
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Posted July 9, 2013
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Posted March 14, 2012
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