This first book in an edgy new US crime series introduces us to burnt-out punk photographer Cass Neary. Cass is a mess but at least she hasn’t sold out: she’s hooking up with younger men (and sometimes women) in gnarly New York clubs, still listening to Patti Smith and refusing to ditch her ancient Konica for digital. We’re soon rooting for Cass – though we’re also a bit scared of this hard-drinking, tattooed kleptomaniac and her steel-tipped cowboy boots.
Granted a rare journalistic assignment to interview an influential, reclusive photographer, Cass takes a drug-fuelled drive to Maine where she finds a desolate coastal town dotted with posters of missing teenagers. After reaching the photographer’s isolated island (‘what you’d imagine a fairytale would look like if you fell into one’), the interview doesn’t go to plan; now she’s stuck there. So she drinks, hangs out with the more arty locals and picks up on dark hints about an abandoned commune. Cass can’t help stirring up old secrets, though as one character says it’s more that she makes things weird not worse.
This is a story where the crime is revealed, like death-fixated Cass’s creepy photos in the darkroom, slowly and with a sense of dread. Hand also follows Stephen King’s dictum that readers love the intricacies of work by rubbing our noses in the chemical smells and processes of pre-digital photography. Generation Loss is an eerily atmospheric crime novel with an unrepentant bad girl snarling acerbic one-liners between swigs of Jack Daniel’s. Yet Hand’s prose, preoccupied with creative power and its decline, gleams with a luminous beauty even as it’s pulling the reader to an explosive finale. A Sequel, Available Dark, is out on August and Hand’s next book will take Cass on a trip to London – a terrifying but thrilling prospect.