I am a big Elizabeth Hand fan. I read all of her (non Star Wars) books in high school and college. It’s been a few (10) years since I’ve read anything by her but when I saw that she had written this book I was eager to read it and to see if I still liked her writing style. This is a dark book, but at the same time it is a beautiful book and I really, really enjoyed it.
Cass Neary made it big as a photographer in the 1970’s. She was part of the punk scene and specialized in photographing the dead; people who overdosed or died of other causes. Almost thirty years later she is a has-been. Constantly strung out on drugs or drunk she just barely ekes out a living slumming it in New York City and working at a used bookstore. Then a buddy of hers gives her a call, he has a job for her…they requested her specifically. Suddenly Cass is trekking out to rural Maine to interview a photographer whose work inspired Cass to start doing photography. Only nothing is what it seems out in this isolated community and strange things are happening…cats ending up dead, humans going missing. Cass finds that this isolated region holds secrets darker than she ever imagined, and for Cass that is saying something.
I loved this book. It is in keeping with her previous works, although there is less supernatural/fantasy element in this book and more mystery/thriller to it. This novel is a bit creepy, but very atmospheric. Hand has a way of describing settings that really makes them come alive…you can smell them and see them. She also has a way of making dark things beautiful. First and foremost this a dark book.
The characters are interesting and full of depth. Cass herself is definitely not someone to idolize (she spends the majority of the book either strung out or drunk) but she has a sort of wondrous naivete about her that is endearing. You kind of understand why she does the things she does and Hand helps you to understand why Cass finds beauty in the destruction and darkness of the world. So despite her amoral character and stupid decisions, somehow you end up kind of liking Cass. The same can be said for the old photographer’s son Gryffin; he is mysterious and dark yet somehow likable.
This book also talks a lot about photography so that is interesting; it touches on rural living and fishing as well as tourism.
It is, all in all, an excellent book. Hand’s writing style continues to awe me. I am always impressed with how engaging her books are, how intelligent they sound, and how they pry into dark places and find beauty there. Her description is amazing, as is the raw way she depicts her characters. The plot was very well done and Hand creates an excellent mystery/thriller.
There is a lot of drug use, swearing, and casual talk about sex; so this book is definitely meant for a more mature audience.
Overall I enjoyed every single word of this book. I couldn’t put it down and was sad when it was over. Next on my list to read by Hand is Mortal Love; which I own, it is the only Elizabeth Hand book I haven’t read yet. I also saw that she is coming out with another book later this year; a children’s book called Illyria. So I am eager to pick that up to read too.
This goes towards the following reading challenges:
– The 100+ Book Reading Challenge