Unconventional characters often appear in the mystery genre with self-destructive photographer Cassandra “Cass” Neary among the most unusual. Cass’ default is being “an aging punk jonesing for a drink and a handful of black beauties.” She is not an appealing character, but Elizabeth Hand never makes her character boring.
Many times readers may wish they could shake Cass, demanding she stop the drinking and pills, and quit living on the fringes of society. Cass doesn’t need enemies or criminals targeting her — she quite capable of sabotaging herself. But Cass’ intelligence, her vulnerability and her empathy for others make readers want to revisit her.
“The Book of Lamps and Banners” finds Cass hiding out in low-rent hotels in London, desperate to raise enough money so she and her longtime boyfriend, Quinn, can leave the country. That is, if Quinn is even alive and if she can find him.
Hand fills her fourth novel in this series with many heartfelt scenes that speak to Cass’ character. A stroll down a London alley filled with independent bookstores is tailor-made for bibliophiles. An old-school photographer who has avoided digital equipment, Cass sees everything through her craft. Knowing how chemicals and metals interact gives her an amateur’s knowledge of forensics. Cass views another character’s self-entitled personality as “the human equivalent of the hole on a piece of emulsion that has been exposed to direct sunlight.”
Hand’s affinity for brisk plotting keeps “The Book of Lamps and Banners” churning with twists and surprises leading to a finale that gives hope to Cass’ future.
”The Book of Lamps and Banners” by Elizabeth Hand; Mulholland (336 pages, $27)