By Elizabeth Hand
Between her addictions, her thievery, her fascination with the macabre and her taste for self-destruction, Cass Neary isn’t someone you’d want to make friends with.
She won brief fame when she produced a book of self-portraits in which she staged famous death scenes. (Think of Ophelia floating in a stained tenement bathtub wearing a thrift store wedding dress with a cheap red ribbon bleeding into the water around her.)
But Cass squandered that with rudeness, tardiness, surliness and inappropriate overtures to reporters, media personalities and their assistants.
She is scraping the margins of New York City life when she gets an offer to shoot images of an iconic woman photographer living reclusively in Maine for an upcoming magazine article.
The woman is one of Cass’s heroines and muses. The man who approaches Cass about this job says the woman specifically requested that Cass be the photographer for the article.
Typically, she spends a chunk of her advance buying an expensive pair of jeans. When she asks her father how to get to Maine, he tells her, “Go north out of New York City. When you get to Vermont, turn right.”
Poorly prepared for the approaching winter weather, Cass finds herself in a small coastal town. Missing persons posters on telephone poles and convenience store bulletin boards tatter in the freezing wind.
When Cass is able to catch a boat to the island where the photographer lives, she finds that the photographer knows nothing about the assignment, never agreed to interviews or photos and refuses to talk to Cass. Her son, a rare book dealer, is visiting and lets Cass in and allows her see her muse’s photos.
The disappearance of the daughter of the owner of the motel where Cass is staying soon makes her the target of suspicion in the girl’s disappearance. She learns that her muse isn’t the only famous photographer on the island; the iconic photographer’s one-time lover and the father of her son lives nearby. He has had his sights on Cass ever since her book was published.
This is an eery, atmospheric mystery. Cass is almost as much a predator as the perpetrator she pursues in the final chapters of the book. She is an unsettling protagonist, whose faults rub uneasily against her courage, curiosity, keen powers of observation and intelligence.
This novel was followed by
- AVAILABLE DARK (Cass Neary 2, 2013). Cass escapes police questioning for Helsinki. There she authenticates a series of images by a famous fashion photographer who cut himself off of the violent Nordic music scene where he made his reputation. Cass sets off for Reykjavik in search of a lover from her own dark past. When the photographer’s mutilated body is found back in Finland, Cass finds herself surrounded by myth, betrayal, vengeance and serial murder.
- HARD LIGHT (Cass Neary 3, 2016). Cass flees Reykjavik and a cluster of cult murders for London. There she plans to meet up with longtime lover, Quinn, a person of interest to both Interpol and the Russian mob. But Quinn doesn’t show. Hooking up with a singer-songwriter with her own dark past, Cass ends up at a party hosted by Mallo Tierney, a gangster and a trio of groupies connected to a notorious underground filmmaker.
- THE BOOK OF LAMPS AND BANNERS (Cass Neary 4, 2020). Desperate to get home and having lost her camera, Cass decides to cash in on a deal a friend is about to cut for the sale of a legendary illuminated manuscript, THE BOOK OF LAMPS AND BANNERS. Then the manuscript is stolen. Cass and her ex-con lover Quinn plunge into the shady underworld of antiquarian booksellers and unhinged tech entrepreneurs to get the book back.
GENERATION LOSS was awarded the Shirley Jackson Award.
About the Author: Elizabeth Hand (1957 – )
Elizabeth Hand is a novelist, short story writer and writer of movie and television spin-offs, include Star WARS tie-in novels and novelizations of such films as “The X-Files” and “12 Monkeys.”
She is a longtime reviewer and critic for The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Boston Review, Salon and Village Voice. Additionally, she writes a regular review column for the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
Like her protagonist, Cass Neary, Hand was involved in the punk music scene of the mid-1970s. At one time, she worked at the Smithsonian Institution’s Air and Space Museum. She was pulled into a job copying and archiving the Smithsonian’s photo collection. Through that assignment, she learned how to process and print film, which provided some of the background for GENERATION LOSS.