Regular readers to this blog can’t fail to notice the amount of Scandinavian crime fiction I read. It’s my favourite sub-genre but even I occasionally like to have a rest from it. I decided therefore to return to Elizabeth Hand, a writer whose previous novel, Generation Loss, I’d enjoyed. She has created a protagonist, Cass Neary, whose personality leaps off the page: a drug taking, freewheeling photographer who was briefly famous for producing a book featuring images of those who had died on the New York streets. As I don’t read blurbs any longer, I plunged straight into the book only to realise that it’s set in Finland and Iceland. At least my intentions had been to steer clear of Scandinavia.
Cass Neary, recovering from her involvement in a recent death in Maine, receives a phone call from an Icelandic collector who asks her to authenticate a set of photographs. Taken by a reclusive fashion photographer who resides in Helsinki, they feature a number of images of victims of violent death. Soon after her visit, the photographer and his assistant are found murdered and Cass flees to Iceland on the trail of a former boyfriend, seeking answers about the dark Nordic music scene which may hold the key to the murders.
The greatest strength of Available Dark is the reappearance of Cass Neary. Much as I hate comparisons with Stieg Larsson, in this case, there are some strong similarities between Lisbeth Salander and Cass Neary. However, Cass is not only older, despite the events that overtake her, she never comes across as a victim. When she resorts to drugs to obliterate a crisis it seems both completely in character and a natural thing to do.
Like Generation Loss, the descriptions of the photographs that Cass views are so evocative that the images jump off the page. Descriptions of the Scandinavian landscape are equally successful and, given that I’ve just returned from a trip to Helsinki, the book brought the orderly and charming city to life. Elizabeth Hand is fast becoming one of my favourite US authors and she is a definite ‘must read’ for me.
Thanks to Constable and Robinson for my review copy.