Available Dark

Cassandra Neary lives hard. Between the drugs, the booze and her trauma-ridden past, she just barely stays afloat; a recent foray (in 2007's Generation Loss) back into her former field of photography didn't earn her much, other than a suspicion of murder that she's eager to outrun. So when a mystery man contacts her from overseas, offering a chance to put her 30-year-dead photography skills back into action for a tidy sum, she leaves her New York City slum life without too much consideration. Correspondence from her high school boyfriend Quinn--long thought dead--pushes her along, too.

But Cass is greeted in Helsinki not only by gruesome photographs--more or less her specialty--but by gruesome murders as well, and she has to keep moving. So it's on to Reykjavik in the heart of winter, where Cass makes her way through a world of icy cold, hard drugs, black metal, mental illness and multiple murders. A reunion with Quinn lends adrenaline and excitement, but no greater light.

Not for the weak-stomached or the easily frightened, Available Dark is a masterpiece of lovely writing and ghastly details. Elizabeth Hand, who has a personal background in the early New York punk scene, treats the finer points of Scandinavian black metal with respect. Her writing is sharp-edged and gritty, and fully realized, filled with frightening, contradictory characters and shocking edge-of-the-seat twists. Cass's artistic perspective, as she photographs ritual killings and crime scenes, adds another layer to what might have been a straightforward thriller. Great fun, if you can hang on for the ride! --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

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