New Maine Times Book Review: Available Dark
By Elizabeth Hand.
Minotaur Books, 2012.
246 pages, $23.95.
Reviewed by William D. Bushnell
New York City photographer Cass Neary is on the skids. She is a 40-ish, self-admitted "burned out underachiever," addicted to booze, pills, and bad decisions, desperate for money, and avoiding the Maine State Police who want to ask her a few questions about her latest trip to Maine. And then she gets a job offer she can't refuse.
AVAILABLE DARK is Maine author Elizabeth Hand's ninth mystery novel, the second in her mystery series featuring Cass Neary, Scary Neary to her ever-diminishing circle of friends and drug dealers. Hand is an award-winning novelist who lives on the Maine coast.
If any readers have read John Connolly's creepy mysteries, then get ready for a rough ride, because Elizabeth Hand is out front and pulling away with this bloody, graphic, and profane story. Warning: It is certainly not for the squeamish or faint of heart. That said, it is a gripping tale of a dark underworld few people have ever heard of.
It may be hard to believe, but there actually are people who are so obsessed with murder and death they collect "murderabilia," especially prized are crime scene photographs of dead bodies and "snuff" photos of actual murders. And when Cass inadvertently falls in with these sickos, she doesn't realize she may soon be in one of these photos herself.
Cass is an edgy photographer, famous in small circles for her decade-old cult classic book of photos of dead people. Now short of cash and hoping to skip an interrogation by the Maine cops for some unexplained unpleasantness in Vacationland, she accepts a strange telephonic job offer to fly to Helsinki, Finland to authenticate some rare and extremely valuable "snuff" photos taken by a well-known Finnish fashion photographer.
Cass is paid a huge amount of money for this simple job, but her authentication of the photos sets off a cycle of violence and multiple murders that freaks out even her booze and pill-addled mind. Three people are dead, the "snuff" photos are missing, and the Finnish police want to talk with her. Cass is in real trouble.
She flees to Iceland, to find sanctuary with an old boyfriend, unaware that he has been on the dark side for years, that he knows the three latest murder victims in Helsinki, and may even have been involved in the "snuff" photos she saw. Their reunion is notable for sweaty sex, lots of booze and dope, and her introduction into the black world of murderous Scandanavian mythology, ritualistic killings, and death metal music (which sounds a lot like a train wreck or a plane crash).
Because of what she saw in the Helsinki photos, Cass knows too much. She is stalked, assaulted, and kidnapped, left to freeze to death in the frigid Icelandic wilderness in winter. Even her stash of crystal meth won't save her now, but a spiked bracelet might.
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, a pile of smelly dead body parts, and really bad music by death metal bands like Nuclear Holocausto and Exploding Mountbattens, 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.