Catching the murder express: Fairstein thriller trained on NYC’s Grand Central Terminal

Catching the murder express: Fairstein thriller trained on NYC’s Grand Central Terminal

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“Terminal City,” by Linda Fairstein, Dutton Adult, June 17, 2014, 384 pages. $21.08.

Entering or leaving New York City through Grand Central Terminal is an exotic and romantic  experience for most travelers. But even weary daily commuters will be enthralled by “Terminal City,” Linda Fairstein’s latest thriller, which explores 130 years of secrets hidden in the giant terminal and under the eight stories below its 48-acre footprint.

Ms. Fairstein has produced 16 novels in the Alex Cooper series and she manages to make a Manhattan landmark a lively character in each of them. This time, assistant DA Alex Cooper and her NYPD pals see more of the world’s sixth-most-visited tourist attraction (according to Travel + Leisure magazine) than they — or we — ever knew existed.

Ms. Fairstein knows the geography and the grittiness of New York City. As chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than two decades, she learned to negotiate the labyrinths of both New York City and the big-city criminal justice system, skills called upon in “Terminal City” after the mutilated body of a young woman is found in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, a few blocks from Grand Central.

The Cooper clan is intact and on the job. Alex Cooper runs the special victim’s unit for the New York district attorney. Mike Chapman is an NYPD detective from a “blue” family in Queens. His father was a cop who died on the job. Mike went to college, but he’s a street guy at heart. He and Alex, a trust-funder, have been trying to unravel their romantic feelings for years. In “Terminal City,” they’ve almost, maybe, solved that mystery.

Mercer Wallace, an investigator with the sexual victims unit, and NYPD Lieutenant Rocco Corelli are in the house. Mercer is Alex’s best friend on the job, and he is a crime-solving logic machine.

Lt. Corelli’s unenviable job, alas, is to solve crimes while placating headline-happy police commish Keith Scully, and helping Alex to manage DA Paul Battaglia, ever-greedy for information he will convert into career-friendly political capital. Neither man seems to exhibit any regard for crime or its victims except as risk-reward factors in their career advancement plans. Thus, we can agree that this series is reality-based.

So now we have a dead girl in Waldorf Towers with criss-cross patterns cut into her thighs. Bad, but it’s New York, you can live with it. Except that POTUS (The President Of The United States) has decided to take a train ride into New York for political haymaking. He will enter Grand Central in the Presidential train on the Presidential track next to an elevator that will drop him off at the Waldorf where presidents always stay. For real, all this exists under Grand Central today.

Then a second similarly-marked woman’s body is found closer to Grand Central, then a third, a man, in the bowels of the terminus. The team enters the station’s subterranean world to meet a community of “moles,” under-dwellers who may have clues to the mystery.

Alex (like Ms. Fairstein) has a house in Chilmark, which is looking particularly attractive after a few days in the heat, smells, and darkness, not to mention the third rail, in this murky world. Feh!

Up above, the feds are going crazy, the mayor is over the moon. Scully and Battaglia are grinding the investigators.

Oh, did I mention that, in a testament to our criminal justice system, a perverted wacko Alex put away a few years ago is now on the loose, looking to take her off the board?

Is this killer part of a terrorism plot or a solo flyer? Who is he? Where is he? And why is he acting so badly? They find out all those things, and that he grew up roaming Grand Central’s underbelly and knows all of her secrets. You gotta read the book for the rest. That’s the rule here.

You’ll like it. I really liked it. I’m finding that as the series matures, Alex the trust-funder has gotten tougher. The dialogue generally is more “street.” Of course, Mike Chapman has always been street and he still watches the final question on “Jeopardy,” regardless of the circumstances.

Ms. Fairstein’s greatest passion is to stop violence against women and Alex Cooper is her voice. The Alex Cooper series gives us a look at big-city crime from the perspective of a prosecutor who lived with it for more than 20 years, and it shows.

In the series, you also get a travelogue, albeit on the seamy side, of the Big Apple. Why, you might even rush to catch a train into Grand Central yourself. Here’s a tip. If you run into New Yorkers who yell, “Watch it, I’m walkin’ heah!,” pay attention. They mean it.

Linda Fairstein will sign books on Friday, July 4, at 3 pm, at the Bunch of Grapes Bookstore in Vineyard Haven. For more information, call 508-693-2291 or visit bunchofgrapes.com.