Cass Neary is an aging punk with a nose for trouble. In her own words, she’s “a walking ad for Just Say No.” As the dodgy, drug-addled narrator of Elizabeth Hand’s new literary thriller, “Available Dark,” Cass follows her instinct for danger to the sunless climes of Scandinavia.

“Available Dark” is the much-awaited sequel to Maine author Hand’s acclaimed 2007 novel, “Generation Loss.” When the book opens, Cass has been living in a haze of speed and booze for three decades since the surprise success of her edgy photo book, “Dead Girls,” in the late ’70s.

Recently, she’s been wanted for questioning by the police in a manslaughter case. That she’s re-emerging now, a 50-something trainwreck, is the result of trouble courting her yet again. Welcome to this dark and unsettling page-turner.

The intrigue begins online. Cass receives an e-mail from a Norwegian art collector, Anton Bredahl, who wants to hire her as a photo consultant. Anton is about to purchase a series of photographs but needs to confirm their authenticity. As Cass debates his offer, a preview arrives. Anton sends her a virtual Fort Knox of links and passwords to his private photo archive.

When she views the contents on her screen, Cass is instantly riveted and repelled: A night photo depicts snow-covered rocks, with a young man lying on his back, his face smashed by a window, frame and all. Subsequent images of dead bodies, choreographed with bizarre details, are equally disturbing.

Cass readily proves her mettle for the job. Not only can she identify the photographer, known for his signature flare of light, but she recognizes an inherent beauty even in such morbid imagery.

“If it was fake – Photoshop or a still from some slasher movie – it was the most convincing fake I’d ever seen,” Cass says. “If not, it was the most beautifully composed crime-scene photo on Earth.”

Cass lands in Helsinki, and the foreshadowing persists. When she arrives at the photographer’s home, the original photos await in a custom darkroom, behind a maze of locked doors and cabinets, never before seen by anyone. The pictures loom at almost 2 by 4 feet, wrapped in protective tissue, to be handled only with cotton gloves. Cass is stunned by the vividness of the work.

“It was as though I stood in the photographer’s shoes with the boy’s corpse at my feet,” she says. “A drop of blood on the shattered windowpane looked as though it would stain my finger if I touched it.”

From the start, this novel is a whodunit. We want to know about the dead bodies in those luridly staged photos, and who killed them. Then the plot thickens and morphs into an ongoing serial murder mystery that stalks Cass’ trail from Helsinki to Reykjavik and beyond.

There’s no shortage of crime or mayhem in this grisly breakneck tale. Factor in the ritualistic killings and a pervasive aura of death, and it’s no wonder that our narrator, Cass, spends most of the book sleepless and high as a kite.

Beyond the intricate plot, “Available Dark” is notable for its rich atmospherics. Cass’ exploits are set against a backdrop of Nordic legend and folklore, Iceland’s black-metal music scene, its recent financial collapse and all things punk and noir.

If Cass has an eye for beauty in some of its most degraded forms, she’s also a keen observer of her surroundings. Hand renders the landscape, with its glaciers, wilderness and near-total darkness, as if it were a separate character. The brutal arctic winter appears less as a season than an explanation for what takes place there.

So it almost makes sense when the deaths portrayed in those photos are written off with the phrase, “Winter swallows everything.”

Hand has long been one of Maine’s first-rate authors, amassing her share of prestigious book awards. It remains to be seen whether “Available Dark,” with its gritty, cultish elements, its anti-heroine and Scandinavian pedigree, may win over some of Stieg Larsson’s fans.

Joan Silverman of Kennebunk writes op-eds, essays and book reviews for numerous publications.