AVAILABLE DARK takes place primarily in the cold, dark regions of Iceland. Photographer Cass Neary is an aging hippie from New York who becomes a heroine of sorts, not because she is witty, pretty, or believable, but because she is scared. A product of the lost drug generation, Cass has drunk or dosed away any real talent she possesses. But she maintains a good eye for the photographic subject. She has squandered the livelihood available to her through the camera in alcohol, pills and hard drugs. These are not qualities a reader anticipates from a likable character.
"Elizabeth Hand cleverly places her characters in spots to lend credibility to the various scenarios she creates for them. She writes a believable alternative to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, albeit a scarred and battered one."
Elizabeth Hand writes about a girl who wonders what her life might have been had she not succumbed to bitter temptations. By the story’s end, one cheers for her redemption. Through no fault of her own, Cass stumbles into a situation of murder and intrigue in a continent away from her home in New York.
When she visits her wealthy father in Kamensic Village, he hands her an envelope addressed to her that he received a week before. Squinting at the familiar handwriting, she recognizes it in a lightning bolt from her distant past. The letter is from her first love, Quinn, who had disappeared from her life. The envelope includes a photo of Quinn taken by Cass and a newspaper article about her book of photography called Dead Girls. Quinn’s correspondence is postmarked from Reykjavik, Iceland.
Cass then receives an email from an art collector named Anton Bredahl in Oslo, Norway. He offers her generous remuneration to appraise six esoteric photographic works in Helsinki. The artist is a retired fashion photographer, Kaltunnen, who is offering the very dark originals for sale. Soon, Cass is on her way to Helsinki to meet Ilkka Kaltunnen at his residence. He shows her his basement studio, with the images she is to verify with her opinion. Cass finds the experience breathtaking and will certainly certify their authenticity for Anton. Later, she dines out with Suri, Ilkka’s assistant, a young woman who plans to meet her back at his apartment that evening. Cass has planned to travel to Iceland with payment from the job to locate Quinn.
Cass finds Quinn in Reykjavik. He is now an ex-con, selling black-market CDs and relics in video from the ’60s culture he had revered in his youth. She renews their torrid sexual relationship and discovers that they have acquaintances in common, namely Anton and Ilkka. A newsflash shocks them both with word that Ilkka and Suri have been murdered and Ilkka’s studio ransacked. Cass realizes that she may have been set up by the collector and may be blamed for the killings. Complications arise with a later bulletin that Anton is found dead.
From this moment forward, Cass is on the run from an unknown predator, terrified that she, too, will be victimized. Her biggest question surrounds Quinn: What is his role in the bizarre circumstances of these deaths, if any?
Elizabeth Hand cleverly places her characters in spots to lend credibility to the various scenarios she creates for them, and displays an expertise in the subject of photography to be admired. She writes a believable alternative to Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, albeit a scarred and battered one. AVAILABLE DARK is written with a style that explores the effects of lives driven by drugs, dark secrets, murder, and possibly redemption.
Reviewed by Judy Gigstad on April 6, 2012