I Gotta Hand It To Elizabeth Hand

When I read about a couple of crime novels that involved a woman who was a photographer, I knew what appeal factor was working on me.  The good news is that not only are the two novels about the character Cassandra Neary very interesting for an amateur photographer like myself to read but they are also excellent crime dramas.

When ever I approach a series as a possible book discussion choice, I need to know that the first book in the series will work for the discussion.  That is because I always start at the beginning of everything–that is the German anal librarian in me that won’t let go.

The good news is that Generation Loss (2007) is a powerful novel that will work well for a book discussion.  The basic plot is that Cass is tricked into going to an island in Maine to do an interview with a photographer named Aphrodite Kamestos.  Aphrodite was a big deal in some circles in the ’70s but now lives a hermit’s life in isolation.  Cass’s time on the island is not what she or the reader expects.

What makes this novel so appealing is that Cass is one damaged person, ranking right up there with Lizbeth Salander from The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.  To list her challenges would spoil the excellent job Hand does at revealing them to the reader and to integrating them into the plot developments.  Be aware that her nickname is Scary Neary.

Trust me, there is something in all the characters, the plot, the setting, and the tone to promote a long, loud and vigorous book discussion.  Part of the issue for a group will be the edgy tone that Hand promulgates throughout Generation Loss, as if something bad is always present.  Anyone who has read and enjoyed Patti Smith’s Just Kids will find this book’s subject matter equally appealing as it tries to explain the need for fame and the desperation of those with a desire for but no actual fortune. .

The same is true, if not worse, in the second book in the series, Available Dark (2012).  In this novel, Cass is on the run from the actions in the first book and gets trapped into dealing with what are essentially snuff photographs based on the Icelandic legend of Jolasveinar.  The history of dark metal music, photography and the economic struggles in Iceland are all grist for the mill here.  While I believe that book one is a stronger work, fans of tough female characters will want to continue to read about Cass Neary and hopefully so will the participants in any book discussion on Generation Loss.

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About the Author:

Gary Niebuhr is the author of Make Mine a Mystery (2003), Caught up in Crime (2009), and other readers' guides to mystery and detective fiction. He was a Booklist contributor from 2008-2014.

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