(Jump to read a review of Entombed)
(Jump to read a review of The Kills)
(Jump to read a review of The Bone Vault)
(reviewed by Guy Savage APR 14, 2009)
“This library’s got more action than any crack den in Bed Stuy.”
I’ll admit that I’d never heard of Linda Fairstein before picking up her latest thriller, Lethal Legacy featuring Assistant District Attorney Alex Cooper. So I was stunned (not to mention nonplussed) to discover that Fairstein is the author of no less than 11 thrillers featuring Cooper. It’s at times like these I thank this review site for introducing me to writers I would otherwise miss. Fairstein, by the way, has a great website, and you can go there and watch a video clip of the author touring The New York Public library, and you can also read the first chapter of Lethal Legacy while you are at it.
For those of you out there who don’t know how Mostlyfiction "works," we volunteer reviewers sort out--amongst ourselves and with remarkably little fighting--just who is going to review what. I like to take chances with new names, so when I saw Lethal Legacy--a thriller that includes the hunt for a priceless copy of Alice in Wonderland, well…I knew I had to read it. After all, as a bookworm, I am attracted to tales featuring people who also make books a large part of their lives.
Lethal Legacy is a terrific thriller that begins with a terrified young girl holed up in her apartment. The girl, Tina, has apparently been assaulted by a man posing as a fireman who gained entry to her apartment by feigning a fire outside of her door. Even though the intruder is long gone, Tina refuses to leave her apartment, and what is so bizarre is that she refuses to press charges. Alex Cooper, in charge of the DA’s Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, is on the scene to gain Tina’s trust and cooperation. When Cooper fails on both counts, there’s no case to pursue--just the lingering taste that somehow they’ve missed something essential about the situation.
Cooper’s instincts are right, and her boss, Paul Battaglia, soon pressures her to dig into the non-existent case a bit more. It seems that Tina, a conservator of rare maps may be a suspect in the theft of a number of rare books looted from the New York Public Library. But before Cooper can find Tina and question her again, another crime takes place in Tina’s apartment. This time it’s murder, and a priceless, jeweled encrusted book is found underneath the corpse.
This valuable book is Cooper’s introduction to the wealthy, idiosyncratic Hunt family. While the Hunts are benefactors of the library, there are disputes within the family as to the future of the library’s Hunt Collection. When the body count rises, and some of the Hunt Collection appears to be the target of thieves, Cooper becomes caught up in the world of rare books, priceless maps, “thefts to order” and people who are willing to kill to secure a fortune.
A great deal of the action centers on the New York Public Library--a fantastic institution that houses so many books that it seems some have unaccountability gone missing without a soul noticing. Cooper acculturates herself to the world of rare books, book theft and nasty family squabbles as she gets a crash course in the political workings on the Library’s inner sanctum controlled by some of the "finer" New York families.
Fairstein convinces the reader that a creepy atmosphere exists within the New York Public Library, and it’s easy to believe that those who fervently protect books could so easily morph into killing for them. In spite of the fact that I have not (yet) read the previous 10 Alex Cooper novels, I did not feel out of my depth with the character’s past cases. Wisely, the author includes a little catch-up info with the introduction of familiar characters (Cooper’s romantically-inclined French beau, for example). The novel is also written in the first person, and so we are privy to Cooper’s thoughts, dislikes and suspicions and can keep in step with Cooper’s intuition about some of the odd (and unlikable) people she meets.
Loaded with fascinating information about the theft and sale of valuable books, and some of the political issues regarding some of the library’s “sacred cows” (the sale of the painting Kindred Sprits to the Wal-Mart heiress, for example), the book introduces some fascinating information regarding the elite, inner sanctum of the valuable book world. The author’s legal background also comes into play in the novel with detailed information about forensics and cases in which suspects were nailed thanks to advancement in forensics. Ultimately this is a meaty thriller that educates as well as entertains. This is an author who interests me because I do like to learn from the books I read, and I would certainly not hesitate to pick up another Alex Cooper novel.
- Amazon readers rating: from 66 reviews
Read a chapter excerpt from Lethal Legacy at Random House(back to top)
(reviewed by Peggy Lindsey JAN 29, 2006)
I'm a huge fan of Law and Order in all its various incarnations (well, okay, Trial by Jury was a bit of a dud), so I was swept in pretty quickly by Linda Fairstein's latest, Death Dance, with its cast of characters from both the law and the order side of crime investigation. Narrated by Alex Cooper, a young ADA working sex crimes, this murder mystery focuses on the death of a famous dancer backstage at the Met. That's the murder side of things. The book actually starts with another crime, the drugging and rape of two young Canadian women by their Turkish doctor host. Oh, and there's a sidebar trip to Martha's Vineyard with another death and a new character who might or might not be a stalker.
Confusing? A bit. Because while the main story--the solving of the ballerina's murder--is suspenseful and entertaining, the rest of the book never quite meshes with the main plot. Why the guy at Martha's Vineyard? Is Fairstein setting the stage for new love interest for Alex in her next book? This is my first read of Fairstein, but Cooper and pals are clearly ongoing characters. As far as I can tell though, the book is supposed to stand on its own. But perhaps not. Otherwise, what was the point of the whole drug-and-rape plot line? Is there some requirement that Cooper's books always include a sex crime or is the deviant doctor a preview for a later work? And how about the inclusion of a stagehand named Ralph Harney, a Met employee who tries to avoid being questioned?
To be fair, all those distractions probably add realism. I'm neither a cop nor a prosecutor, but I imagine most of their jobs involve working multiple cases that include lots of deadends and distractions. And in Fairstein's favor, the writing is consistently suspenseful. I was wondering who and why all the way through. In the end, I figured out whodunit about a dozen pages before Fairstein tells the reader, but I’m still not clear why I had to endure all the little subplots along the way.
On the plus side, Fairstein does a great job integrating some fun trivia about New York history into the plot. That's trickier than it sounds. Lately, I’ve found a lot of writers who research their locales and then feel compelled to share every morsel in long, boring lectures by pompous characters. Fairstein blends her little lessons about how the big theatres were built by making sure the info appears when and only when it's relevant.
So while Death Dance isn’t a flawless novel, it’s still one worth reading, particularly if you're a crime fiction buff. Fairstein’s allusions to her characters’ past adventures left me curious enough to find copies of her earlier works, generating a much-needed source of reads that are light without being fluffy. Death Dance is not great literature, but it's a smart book with smart characters that will keep you reading late into the night.
- Amazon readers rating: from 53 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- Final Jeopardy (1996)
- Likely to Die (1997)
- Cold Hit (1999)
- The Deadhouse (2001)
- The Bone Vault (2003)
- The Kills (2004)
- Entombed (2005)
- Death Dance (2006)
- Bad Blood (2007)
- Killer Heat (2008)
- Lethal Legacy (2009)
- Hell Gate (2010)
- Silent Mercy (2011)
- Night Watch (2012)
- Death Angel (July 2013)
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- The official Web site for Linda Fairstein
- Wikipedia page on Linda Fairstein
- MostlyFiction.com interview with Linda Fairstein
- The New York Times page on Linda Fairstein
- MostlyFiction.com review of Entombed, The Kills and Bone Vault
- Reader's Guide fore Lethal Legacy
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About the Author:
Linda Fairstein, one of America's foremost legal experts on crimes of sexual assault and domestic violence, ran the Sex Crimes Unit of the District Attorney's Office in Manhattan for more than two decades. Her first novel, Final Jeopardy, which introduced the character of Alexandra Cooper, was published in 1996 to critical and commercial acclaim. Her nonfiction book, Sexual Violence, was a New York Times Notable Book in 1994. She lives with her husband in New York and on Martha's Vineyard.