Review: Elizabeth Hand – Generation Loss

generation lossAfter reading Paul Doiron’s excellent The Poacher’s Son, I mentioned in my review that I was hoping to read more books set in the US state of Maine. A couple of readers suggested I read Elizabeth Hand’s Generation Loss and the recommendation coincided with me receiving a review copy from Constable and Robinson. In the book, we get to see a different side to Maine which is no less violent that that of Doiron’s novels. Once more, the beauty of the landscape reveals an underbelly that allows madness to fester.

Cass Neary is a photogrpaher who had her fifteen minutes of fame during the punk era. She published a book featuring dead addicts on New York streets that became a minor cult classic. However, she has since fallen into the abyss of drug and alcohol addiction and her early promise wasn’t fulfilled. When an old friend offers her the chance of interviewing a reclusive cult photographer, whose style greatly influenced her own work, Cass agrees. However, Aphtrodite Kamestos lives on an island off the coast of Maine, a landscape far removed from the familiarity of the New York streets. When she arrives in the community, Cass struggles with the attitude of the locals, Aphrodite’s claim that she never agreed to the interview and her lingering suspicion that all is not what it seems.

The dominant force of this book is the character of Cass Neary. Damaged and cynical, she washes up on the Maine shores with an attitude that immediately gets the back up of some locals. But she clearly has talent as a photographer and she responds to the creative forces that she encounters. The islands off Maine were once the home to a commune and the legacy of the sixties counter-culture is clearly as damaging as that of the later punk era. Some of the people of Maine respond to Cass’s vulnerability and it is clearly a community that can accept loners.

It takes a while for the murder plot to become apparent, somewhere around the midway point. The tone of the book then changes and becomes fairly menacing which works well in the bleak landscape. The sea always adds an element of fear into a narrative and, combined with a dangerous loner with a murderous attitude, it makes for a brutal conclusion.

This is an unusual read and is a mix of hard-nosed noir combined with evocative descriptions of the Maine coast. Hand is clearly a talented writer and I’m pleased she is finally being published in the UK.

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19 thoughts on “Review: Elizabeth Hand – Generation Loss

  1. I read this book a few years ago and I liked it because of the Maine setting (I love Maine, inland, mountains, coasts) and the character of Cass Neary, an unusual and eccentric woman. She is definitely a holdover from the 1960s New York City Lower East Side scene. She’s also wise and cynical, and stands out from the usual pack of detectives and their ilk.
    The book does evoke the Maine weather and desolation, especially on its islands.
    Though I’ve never been on this type of island, I summered on Mount Desert Island on Maine’s coast, a stunningly beautiful place. One can drive around it on the ocean’s coast, with mountains in the distance. One can go on day hikes after swimming on an enclosed beach, and then get dressed, walk off the sand and start up the trails.
    One fond memory I have is of my then partner and I climbing Day Mountain, a small one. We reached the peak quickly and sat up there reading and eating just-baked green apple pie. We could see Bar Harbor, sailboats, houses, more mountains and trees.
    Only one catch here: I tried to read Cass Neary’s second adventure in Iceland. It was so terrible that I raced through it in an hour and disrecommended it to friends. The brutality was horrific, non-stop, every page. Nothing redeeming here.

    • The descriptions of the place are wonderful aren’t they, Kathy. I really want to visit Maine if I can. Shame about book 2 as I’m quite keen to read it too.

  2. Sarah – Oh, I’ve been wanting to read this one! The setting is quite appealing to me and it sounds as though she takes an innovative approach to noir. Thanks very much for the fine review.

  3. I’m so lucky to be married to a man from coastal Maine. He spent his summers growing up on an island in Casco Bay, Peaks Island, a 25-minute ferry ride from Portland, Maine’s largest city and the city where he was born. During the first 12 years of our marriage, we spent vacations at the family “cottage.” It’s funny now, but it was only after two full years of visiting the island that I saw it in sunshine for the first time. I remember exclaiming, “The island is so beautiful!” Everyone laughed, but it was very hard to see its beauty in the constant fog and the sound of those neverending foghorns!! Hard to sleep.

    If you’re looking for another mystery writer who knows Maine and sets many of her novels there, look up Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild mysteries. I especially recommend “The Body in the Sleigh.” They’re cozy, yes, but sometimes the hominess of a Maine island is just what you need!

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

    • A great story Judith and you are so lucky to have visited those parts. They sound absolutely beautiful. I’ll look out for ‘Body in the Sleigh’. I’m up for a cosy mystery now and then.

  4. I had not heard of this author. I have heard of the book that she wrote, Twelve Monkeys. Although it was based on the screenplay of the movie, not the other way around. Anyway, I think that the setting is the main draw for me, although photography is a love that my family shares, so that element could be interesting. You would not believe how many cameras we have for three people.

    I do have a copy of Paul Doiron’s The Poacher’s Son now, based on your recommendation, and it is near the top of my list of “want to read” books.

    • If you like cameras/photography Tracy, this is the book for you. I thought some of the information was fascinating about how film was developed etc.

  5. Sorry Kathy D didn’t like Available Dark. Although she’s correct that it is brutal, Nordic myths abound in it, and I found it fascinating

  6. The only way to judge a book is to read it for oneself. I was quite disappointed in Available Dark, but certainly recognize that we crime fiction fans have different taste.

  7. Pingback: The Best of June’s Reading | crimepieces

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