The title of Elizabeth Hand’s second Cass Neary thriller plays on the photography term “available light,” but there’s little light — either physically or metaphorically — in the six photos that set this plot in motion. They’re grisly portraits of corpses whose methods of murder were inspired by the Yuleboys of Icelandic folklore, figures with names like Door Slammer, Spoon Licker and Meat Hook. The circumstances surrounding the deaths have been obscured, though famed photographer Ilkka Kaltunnen has immortalized them with his signature “phantom novas” of white radiance. He spares the victims no empathy: “They deserved to die,” he says. “They were unclean: Their own darkness had invaded them. Whatever light they possess now, it came from me.”
Cass, a struggling photographer based in New York, has been invited to Helsinki to view these photos as a consultant for a collector. He likens his “esoteric” tastes with Cass’s own work, but she’s leery of his appreciation. “ ‘Esoteric’ has roughly the same relation to my camera work as ‘erotica’ has to porn,” she explains. But other factors urge her to accept his offer and fly to Finland. Staying home would pose its own dangers, since Cass risks being implicated in a death described in Hand’s previous book, “Generation Loss.”And a weathered photograph, recently postmarked from Iceland, has tantalized her with memories of an old lover who’s now a dealer in vintage vinyl recordings in Reykjavik. It’s a detour made affordable thanks to her hefty consulting fee.