Sunday, March 8, 2020

Hard Light by Elizabeth Hand

I’ve been describing Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary books as akin to nordic noir. That’s not entirely inaccurate. The bleakness, the cold settings, the heroine who is a survivor of trauma are somewhat reminiscent of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, though Hand is the far better writer (at least compared to the translation). But reading the third Neary novel so soon after reading Wuthering Heights for the first time, I realize I’ve been leaving out the gothic genre. Hand is a master of whatever genre she turns her attention to, and in Neary she has created one of the great punk antiheroes, and the result of placing such a character in this mix of genres is excellent.

Early in Hard Light, the third in the series, Neary describes herself as “the ghost of punk, haunting the 21st Century in disintegrating black-and-white; one of those living fossils you read about who usually show up, dead, in a place you've never heard of." And that is the mood of the book. Aging punk defiance. Neary could be credibly tied to several murders from the previous two books. The third opens with Neary clearing customs in London after fleeing Iceland with another woman’s passport. Her intention is to lay low until her ex Quinn (who the reader met in the previous book) follows her to England. She quickly falls in with a new crowd of people, ex-criminals, all involved in both drugs and stolen antiquities. The novel climaxes in an old, remote, English family home. Neary is a formerly briefly famous photographer, completely analog, and the photography metaphors play out here in a strikingly original and gruesome manner.

I won’t spoil more of the plot, but it is a very satisfying novel. The prose, as always, is excellent. This is well plotted, and the gothic atmosphere is as well rendered as any book I’ve read. If this had been the final Cass Neary book, it would have been a fitting ending. There is, though, a fourth coming out this fall. Through the seven books I’ve read by her across several genres she is consistently great. I suspect I will eventually read all of her work eventually. This is obviously recommended, but should be read after the first two in the series. It could be read on its own, but it will be more satisfying with the previous stories in mind.

Highly Recommended

Owned But Previously Unread 2020 17/75

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