three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
58-May-June-2012
user_rating: 
0

737157.pngElizabeth Hand, the author of Mortal Love (2004), Illyria (2010), Glimmering (1997), and Generation Loss (2007) (the first in the Cass Neary series) has won numerous prizes for her novels and short fiction, including the Nebula Award and the World Fantasy Award.

The Story: Cassandra Neary developed a cult following in the 1970s for her photographs of musicians and corpses. Decades later, the middle-aged Cass is burnt out and ravaged by years of alcohol and drug abuse. She’s also dodging the police, who have questions about her role in a mysterious death. When an eccentric collector offers her a lucrative consulting job in Helsinki, Cass jumps at the chance to leave New York. The work is simple—to authenticate a series of grisly photographs inspired by Icelandic mythology. But when people tied to the "murderabilia" turn up dead, Cass flees to Reykjavik and finds herself immersed in a world of ritual killings, death metal music, and murder.
Minotaur. 256 pages. $23.99. ISBN: 9780312585945

New Maine Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Add a lover with Inuit tattoos on his face, a well-mannered fashion photographer with a disturbing hobby, an albino flea market vendor, a nightclub owner with a lot of money and peculiar tastes, a woman who hates Cass’s guts, a sleazy banker with Russian mob connections, a gifted drummer and a talented guitarist … and an unlikely heroine who is a doper, thief, and liar, and you have a very creepy and unnerving mystery. … That said, once started this book will be hard to put down." William D. Bushnell

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Hand could never get away with this stuff if she weren’t such 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

Time 4 of 5 Stars
"Available Dark works well as a thriller, but it’s Cass who makes the book extraordinary. It’s rare to find a strong female character—especially a middle-aged one—who likes sex and drinking and drugs and doesn’t feel the need to apologize about it." Lev Grossman

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[T]he entire novel seems to walk a similarly treacherous path: pulsing with tension throughout, yet also risking alienating readers with its frequent moral ambivalence. But Cass’s reaction to those vivid photographs, which she describes as ‘unspeakably lovely,’ suggests the rapt, unsettled response that readers will feel wandering through this bleak and existential landscape, charged with its own chilling luminosity." Art Taylor

Cleveland Plain Dealer 2.5 of 5 Stars
"What prevents [the novel] from degenerating into camp is Hand’s controlled writing and nimble plot. … Hand traffics in such preposterous Scandinavian mumbo-jumbo (I counted five references to J.R.R. Tolkien) that she snaps her story’s credulity." Karen R. Long

Critical Summary

In her second Cass Neary novel, Hand expertly renders Iceland’s wintry landscape, but critics found themselves riveted more by the heroine than by the setting. Charismatic and sociopathic, a Lisbeth Salander gone to seed, Cass—with her tortured, rather grisly history—is probably the scariest thing about the book. One reviewer found the sequel less accomplished than its predecessor, and several critics acknowledged readers might be put off by the heroine’s violent, drug-fueled lifestyle. An atmospheric and literary thriller, Available Dark is certainly dark—and not for everyone.