Today's Book Review

Elizabeth Hand
Available Dark
256pp. Minotaur Books.

It is not any secret to regular readers of the Rejectionist how I feel about Elizabeth Hand, and I am ever more convinced that she is constitutionally incapable of writing a book that is anything less than magnificent. Available Dark is the follow-up to 2007's Generation Loss , and it is, like its predecessor, a gasoline burn of a book; but it's also a tightly-plotted noir thriller that is, as they say, unputdownable. Available Dark 's narrator and taciturn antiheroine, Cass Neary, is the kind of no-holds-barred fuckup whose downward trajectory is, dare I say, not so much repulsive as inspiring. She works so well because Hand is unafraid to take her to the edge and then push her right off it. But no matter what, Cass survives, thanks to her own wits, a handy bottle of whiskey, and a stash of speed perennially awaiting her in her back pocket. Philip Marlowe and then some.

I find it particularly appropriate that Available Dark 's release date is Valentine's Day, given that it is a kind of valentine to the kind of lady who lurks in more than a few of us: the lady who does all the bad things and keeps going and wins, the lady who has no fear, the lady who is going to fuck you up so hard if you mess with her and maybe it won't work out so well for her either ("There had been more trouble, as usual," is Cass's dour opening line) but the fallout, the fallout will be amazing to watch. Id without the lid, as my friend Cristina says. Cass Neary is my totem animal, I think, the lady whose response to dire crisis is "do some crank, get violent," and it's epic, transcendent, funny ("I passed a line of anorexics waiting to get into a restaurant specializing in... truffle macaroni and artisanal cheese"), wild, great. But also real. Real in the way Cass deals with her past, in the way she thinks about the future, and in the way her demons are both barrier and fuel; this is no slick superhacker sexpot, whose inner torments conveniently lead her to conform neatly to dominant-culture fantasies about slutty punk sexual assault survivors. Cass isn't a genius, she isn't a supermodel just waiting for a shower to put the shine on, and she isn't an avenging angel sent from god to act out torture-porn revenge fantasies for an invisible camera. She's fucking human: messed-up, tough as shit, and so relatable it hurts.

Elizabeth Hand is, as you either already know or are about to find out, relentlessly brilliant, whether she is writing operatically gothic postapocalyptic sci-fi excess or fine-tuned murder mysteries scrubbed clean of so much as a single extra sentence. Available Dark starts out Henning Mankell and ends up Hieronymus Bosch, by way of a field trip to Iceland and a brisk tour of Scandinavia's death metal scene (seriously, that is all I should have to say to you, right? Elizabeth Hand; Iceland; death metal). Cass is a photographer who's sent to Helsinki to authenticate a series of photographs by a famous fashion photographer who's sent himself into exile. The photos are real, and they're of dead people; rather than ask questions, Cass pockets her fee and heads to Reykjavik to track down an erstwhile love from her distant past. But it turns out Scandinavia's a small town, and when the photographer ends up dead, Cass is sucked into a downward spiral of murder, treachery, and Mayhem Through it all Cass is funny, ferocious, heartbreaking; perhaps her greatest gift as a narrator is her ability to stare into the abyss without blinking, to see beauty in darkness and photograph it so that we can see it, too.