Despite the noir pastiche of disturbing scenes, environmental decay and the imminence of darker forces at work, Hand’s prose is lyrical, precise as the images of death coveted by a malevolent collector, a burst of light illuminating choreographed death. Hand resurrects Cassandra Neary, a life-battered photojournalist with a treasure trove of knowledge catalogued in her brain in a jumble of wisdom, horror and incendiary beauty.
Hand plunges the East Village habitué into the austerity of Finland and the decay of Reykjavik, where murder chases her into the arms of the past. From a shadow life where the past is more powerful than the present, like a montage of overexposed film, Cassandra emerges from her lair with a strange assignment and the prospect of earning badly-needed funds, her task to authenticate a series of “murderabilia” photographs by an iconic photographer in Finland.
After viewing the astonishing series of “Yuleboys” (the Jolasveinar of Nordic legend), Cass is seized with a sense of dread. She flies to Iceland in search of Quinn O’Boyle, thanks to an enigmatic postcard bearing a familiar image. Quinn has touched Cass as no one else, his essence burned into her psych, the emotional mirror-image who unlocks her deepest self. Far from the dismal streets of New York, the landscape of Neary’s mad journey is the stuff of nightmares, from the meeting with an artistic genius to discovering a blood-soaked crime scene and an abrupt arrival in the economically- ravaged Reykjavik.
Between a pristine environment in Finland, where the perverted beauty of death is caught at the moment of the soul’s extinction, and the social chaos and shocking decay of Reykjavik, the contrast is as stark and life and death. In the wake of the brutal murders and most likely the next target, Cass is absorbed by the city, blindly searching for Quinn as her only hope of survival.
In a marketplace where secret deals are made for artifacts deemed priceless in a declining civilization, Cass finds a bottom deeper than the triumvirate of drugs, art and despair she has embraced in the past. Given the nature of Neary’s assignment and the depraved individuals who inhabit this macabre world, Cass is caught in a cacophony of confusion, violence and confrontation, the tale simultaneously seductive and ugly. In a fitting ending to a spiral of death, folklore and nihilism that demands its victims forfeit existence in a flash of insight, childish fairy tales are stripped to reveal rotting skulls and time-worn bones, a hollow core of horror that clings even as Cass turns her back and walks away.
For all her flaws, Cass Neary is an entirely sympathetic figure, albeit with the social sensitivity of ground glass, yet the soft inner core of a tormented soul in sore need of company. Reuniting with an equally-scarred Quinn O’Boyle in Reykjavik, the path of true love is marred by the pursuit of a conscienceless killer who lurks in the shadows. Perhaps Hand is a specialized taste in a world that prefers lighter fare, but such cutting-edge vision is a rare and valuable guide through a psychic netherworld of secret rooms with locked doors rarely opened.