These novels are a literary paean to art being made under bad circumstances and in response to awful things. The process is one of compression for Cass: when evil presses down on good, the freak of consequence is grace. Cass’s personal demons and her photographic eye evoke a change in what she captures: ugliness turns to beauty, and death into truth. The senselessness of life seems sacred. Elizabeth Hand is brilliant.
Intense and atmospheric, Generation Loss is an inventive brew of postpunk attitude and dark mystery. Elizabeth Hand writes with craftsmanship and passion.
Fiercely frightening yet hauntingly beautiful, with a startling heroine you’ll never forget, Available Dark shimmers with gorgeous writing even as it scares thedickens out of you. I’ve long been a fan of Elizabeth Hand’s amazing books, and once again she proves why she is truly a writer’s writer, her prose so glowing it makes all the rest of us jealous.
Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary novels, rightly praised for their icy tension and remarkable darkness, are threaded, like the best of punk in any medium, on a bloodied yet admirably stubborn humanism.
Nerve-jangling and addictive, Elizabeth Hand’s Hard Light offers up a signature Cass Neary tale of moral ambivalence, keen betrayal and a dark lushness that leaps off the page. And with Cass―relentless in her dangerous curiosity, her ruthless art of survival―Hand has created an anti-hero for the ages. We’d follow her anywhere, into any glittery abyss, and do.
I love Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary novels―they’re tough-minded, beautifully written, and unique. One of the best series out there. In Hard Light, Hand has created another fascinating puzzle―and another instant classic. If you’re a fan of intelligent page-turners, this one’s for you.
A skin-blistering crime novel, as edgy and black as dried blood on a moonlit night.
I hate modern fiction, it usually sucks. Available Dark is the exception to my rule, it is wonderfully depressing—the locations, the characters, the mood, the murders; it’s so well written— it reads true. I can think of no higher compliment.
Elizabeth Hand is quite simply one of our best living writers. Her Cass Neary books are the ne plus ultra of modern noir, and Hard Light is the best one far: A riveting story that gets going at nosebleed pace and never slows down, anchored by the voice of the iconic Cass Neary, the greatest main character in modern detective fiction.
Brutal, elegant, rich and strange, Hard Light is noir at its very best. Elizabeth Hand is not only one of the great American novelists, her influence on a generation has changed the face of literature. This novel will haunt your dreams.
Beloved scrapper, fight-picker, and trouble-finder Cass Neary returns for another installment in Elizabeth Hand’s gorgeous, searing, speed-fueled bender of a series. Both fearless and vulnerable, heroic and haunted, Neary is a heroine like no other: a punk-rock valkyrie whose fierce intelligence and harrowing quests, rendered in Hand’s flawless, ice-clear prose, have redefined a genre. Hard Light is Hand at her best, and I cannot think of any higher praise.
Photographer and aging NYC punk rocker, Cass Neary is one of literature’s great noir anti-heroes. She sees beauty in the grimmest pits, but when she stumbles on ugly, gorgeous mayhem erupts. Elizabeth Hand’s prose is a wiry, intelligent force that ranges from blunt athleticism to fluid luminosity. The propulsive power of her narrative is all the more stunning for her meticulous observation of sensory detail, art, and the human complexity it reveals. Ferocious, aching with compassion and cruelly brilliant, Available Dark is a sinful pleasure. [And from Katherine’s note to Elizabeth: “I love the book. It’s beautiful and terrifying and profound. Oh shit, should have thrown a ‘profound’ or two into the blurb.”}
Elizabeth Hand’s Hard Light is a pitch-perfect punk noir that makes a speed-fueled, mad-dash tour through an avant-garde underbelly London and the lost landscape of rural England. It’s about the lost, the heartbreakingly ephemeral, and the melancholy timelessness of art and love and murder. It’s a tour de force. It’s a great goddamn book. If you haven’t met Cass Neary yet, do so before you get a well-deserved steel-toe to the knee.
Like the chilling female characters of Tana French or Gillian Flynn, Elizabeth Hand’s smart Cassandra Neary will freeze your blood and set your imagination ablaze. I dare you to close your eyes on Hard Light.
London’s calling Cass Neary in this addictive novel that brings the sordid glories of the Seventies arts scene into the hard light of today. Whip smart and pitch perfect, it jangled my bones.
The novel crackles with energy: it is alive.
Lucid and beautifully rendered. Great, unforgiving wilderness, a vanished teenager, an excellent villain, and an obsession with art that shades into death. An excellent book.
Cass is a marvel, someone with whom we take the difficult journey toward delayed adulthood, wishing her encouragement despite grave odds.
Hand’s terse but transporting prose keeps the reader turning pages until Neary’s gritty charm does, finally, shine through.
This smart, dark, literary thriller will keep you up at night.
Hand expertly ratchets up the suspense until it’s at the level of a highpitched scream.
Elizabeth Hand’s Hard Light stars one of my favorite hard-living antiheroines, punk photographer Cass Neary. Cass’s legion of fans will snap up this one for sure.
She ... has taken her bleak aesthetic to the next level in an effort to penetrate mysteries of life and death. Cass is a complex and thoroughly believable character who behaves selfishly—sometimes despicably—yet still compels reader sympathy. The novel’s final chapters, in which Cass confronts a horrifying embodiment of the extremes to which her own artistic inclinations could lead, are a terror tour-de-force that testify to the power of great fiction to disturb and provoke.
The other great strength is Cass herself. Addicted to drugs and alcohol, she nevertheless has great street smarts and an even better artistic eye. She will do what she has to do to get by, and she’s seen the worst side of humanity, but she still maintains a sense of compassion that elevates the mystery and increases its resonance. A must for fans of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy and Robert Galbraith’s [J.K. Rowling] Cormoran Strike novels.
Hand combines elements of the traditional amateur-sleuth mystery with a visceral story of personal redemption, and her pulsating prose smacks us in the face with frank, fascinating discussions of sex and drugs and with staccato dialogue peppered with expletives. The utterly compelling protagonist, whose self-loathing competes with her hatred of life to see which can beat her into submission first, wins us over almost in spite of herself. Brilliantly written and completely original, Hand’s novel is an achievement with a capital A.
There’s an end-of-the-world feel in Elizabeth Hand’s startling, unclassifiable Generation Loss, which was recently honored with the first Shirley Jackson Award for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense. “Generation Loss” is full of mysteries — all originating in its characters’ troubled psyches — and full of terrors that can’t be explained. This writer’s Promethean project, her fire-stealing strategy, has always been, as Cass Neary’s is and Mary Shelley’s was, art itself — the act of creation and all its frightful ambiguities. Near the end of “Generation Loss,” Cass comments on another artist’s work: “It was a horrifying world, but it was a real one. How many of us can say we’ve made a new world out of the things that terrify and move us?” And there’s no way to mistake the new worlds they’re making for the work of men.
Generation Loss is about as on the edge as a book can be, straight from the top drawer. Cass Neary is a testament to the fierce quality of Hand’s writing. Her precise observations and eye for movement in the shadows are what make Cass worth watching; the desperate and declining trajectory of the burnt-out protagonist’s soul keeps us rooted. In one sense the novel is an essay on damage. The title refers to the loss of quality when a photo is copied and then the copy is copied and so on. But its other meaning is, of course, the lost generation, the burn-outs, the casualties, the damaged and the damned, the rock-and-roll dead. Loss of integrity—as an artist and as a vital human being—is the powerful metaphor in this. Hand is one of those writers who has challenged the restrictions of genre writing. Here, she both fights with and against the conventions of the thriller genre to get at an evil deeper than its mere perpetrator. So although Generation Loss moves like a thriller, it detonates with greater resound. It’s a dark and beautiful novel that should not be read by anyone under the age of 30.
‘Generation Loss,’ ‘Available Dark,’ and ‘Hard Light’ form a single, breathless, absorbing story. Hand’s turn to crime fiction brought with it a new style: Sharp, clear, and mercilessly lean. Not only did that style fit Cass, it fit Hand: The author, roughly the same age as her character, was also a part of the punk scene in her youth. Generation Loss rasps with gritty authenticity, from the copious references to artists like Iggy Pop and the Ramones to the way Cass’ hardcore attraction to damage and destruction propels her deep into the book’s maze of murder and secrets. The Cass Neary books follow their own formula, a cyclical rhythm that feels a whirlpool starting to circle. If the stark ending of the latest volume is any indication, it’s far from over. Or as Cass herself puts it at the start of Hard Light: “I’m the ghost of punk, haunting the twenty-first century in disintegrating black-and-white.” Too tough to die, indeed.
It’s testimony to the uneasy postmodern tenor of this mystery that two-thirds of the way through you still won’t be quite sure whether our narrator will solve a crime, or perhaps commit one. Lisbeth Salander, of dragon tattoo fame, looks like a candidate for girl scout troop leader by comparison with this nihilist with a Konica. Hand shows that she is as acute in probing psychology as in setting up the “crime scene investigation” details that are so popular in contemporary storytelling. One of the great marvels of this novel is how the plot moves forward even when the main characters seem too psychically damaged to finish a game of checkers, let alone solve a mystery. Make no mistake, this is a disturbing book—but disturbing in a thought-provoking, rather than merely gut-wrenching, manner. Generation Loss does a striking job of exploring the grotesque side of the postmodern ethos even as it embraces its tenets. A chilling thriller.
One of the most cynically amoral antiheroes since Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley.,Cass Neary is a seething cauldron of resentment, longing, and despair, and Hand does a remarkable job of making her both sadly credible and deeply sympathetic. Cass’s first-person narration is entirely absorbing, and readers are favored with a constant stream of put-downs of bourgeois normalcy that are razor sharp and hilarious. Her scorn for the trendy hipsters who have mainstreamed the rebellious impulses that fueled her own youth is equally caustic. The novels are linked by an abiding fascination for outsider art of all kinds: post-punk and no-wave music, cult movies, bootleg tapes of dubious provenance and questionable legality. The novels are unfailingly funny and shrewd, erudite in their punkish way; they are also at times truly terrifying. Hand is an expert at evoking atmospheric milieux, from the wilds of an offshore island to the urban deserts of modern Europe. Like Cass, she is a master at capturing the interplay of light and darkness, and she does not flinch from the most graphic brutalities. Her eye is penetrating and sure. And in Cass she has found a once-in-a-lifetime character whose ferocious narrative voice spares no one, not even herself.
Available Dark is a sequel to Hand’s Generation Loss, an underground classic: Cass Neary is what Lisbeth Salander would look like in 30 years, if she were tall, blonde and plausible. It’s Cass who makes the book extraordinary. It’s rare to find a strong female character—especially a middle-aged one—who likes sex and drinking and drugs and doesn’t feel the need to apologize about it. And then there’s her voice. Hand is a funny writer, and not just funny but witty. Hand is a bona fide literary artist working in a genre that doesn’t see a lot of high-quality prose.
Elizabeth Hand writes stories so disturbing, you almost wish you hadn’t read them. Hand’s Cass Neary crime novels make mincemeat out of the assumption — still held by many an unwary reader — that mysteries are mere diversions, designed to pass an empty hour and then be forgotten. No way that’s true of Hard Light: This third novel in the Cass Neary series fades away as stubbornly as a bloodstain. Hand’s tale, too, burrows in deep. Part of its power derives from the sheer exuberant strangeness of Hand’s storytelling.Hand is also unflinching in her depiction of her bad-girl antiheroine. Cass has much in common with Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, but Cass is older and more grimly set in her antisocial ways and black-stovepipe-jean wardrobe; she seems even more fringe than Lisbeth, who still has time left for therapy and second chances. Cass is someone you’d probably choose not to sit next to on Amtrak, but who you’d want nearby when things get really weird. As they do here. The spooky finale of “Hard Light” leads readers deep into a macabre murder scene—courtesy of Edgar Allan Poe—that holds clues to the beginning of the art of photography itself. It’s a bravura ending that both lays some questions to rest and exhumes even more freshly disturbing images to trouble a reader’s peace of mind.
Popular culture has been teeming with antiheroes of late, but Elizabeth Hand’s Cass Neary stands out from the crowd. She doesn’t really fit any archetype; she crackles with individuality. If the Cass Neary novels are about any one thing, they’re about the eerie, uncomfortable intersections of art and death. Cass is drawn to the extreme and the transgressive, and her own moral boundaries are not at all clear, especially when art is at stake. Hand is an extraordinary writer with a strong voice and a seemingly infinite supply of well-observed, macabre details. The novel flickers with malignant magic, the base and dirty stuff of human life rubbing up against the mystical marvels of art, the unknowable mysteries of history, the awe-inspiring logic of fate. Cass battles more than her fair share of existential despair, but she has an appreciation for the beauty in even the filth of the world that gives this dark novel a glittering sense of wonder.
“The edge where I’d lived for all these years was starting to look like a precipice,” Cass reflects early in Available Dark, and the entire novel seems to walk a similarly treacherous path: pulsing with tension throughout, and frequent moral ambivalence. But Cass’s reaction to those vivid photographs, which she describes as “unspeakably lovely,” suggests the rapt, unsettled response that readers will feel wandering through this bleak and existential landscape, charged with its own chilling luminosity.
Hand has quickly established herself as a master in the mystery field, and Generation Loss and Available Dark have the feel of instant classics (and it’s important to point out that Generation Loss debuted a year before the English translation of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). Each Cass book explores the passions and perils of artistic endeavor, and Hand writes with equally compelling authority not only about photography and music but about the creative impulse, the compulsions behind those works. Reflecting on her own photography, Cass claims to see “where the ripped edges of the world begin to peel away and something else shows through.” That description might easily apply to Hand too, whose exquisite prose, with its crisp details and frequently startling imagery, enriches these relentless inquiries into dark subject matters and reveals with grace and unflinching precision both the damage and the resilience of her characters. These are must-haves for the bookshelf and (it doesn’t take a visionary to predict this) a firm foundation for a promising series ahead.
This novel disturbs like Cass’s photos of dead junkies and squalid club scenes. Hand propels this oddly appealing character through an old-fashioned mystery-thriller with stirring results. In the end, Generation Loss is a story of sin and redemption. With darkly inventive polish, Hand reveals a character so deeply disordered, she’s both unlikeable and compelling.
The novel is rich with meditation, observation and thematic obsession, not to mention a crackling pace and a well fashioned plot that, for all it’s bracing New Wave qualities, follows the path of the classic English mystery. Like Geoffrey Household’s suspense gem of 1939, Rogue Male, it starts in cosmopolitan London and ends in a hole in the countryside, and, like much of the golden age oeuvre, questions of parentage are paramount.
The Alienist meets Devil in the White City: Don’t miss Curious Toys, the transfixing new historical crime novel from Elizabeth Hand, coming October 15, 2019.
Curious Toys is wonderful. I stayed up late two nights in a row with it, transported to a Chicago I never experienced firsthand—it will be catnip for readers who love Chicago, circuses, cross-dressers, and early cinema.