“Devil’s Bridge” by Linda Fairstein. Published by Dutton, New York, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Paperback, 384 pages, $28. Now available at Bunch of Grapes bookstore in Vineyard Haven, Edgartown Books, and at Island libraries.
Alexandra Cooper, assistant district attorney for New York City and head of its sex crimes unit, has been in some real jams as the protagonist of Linda Fairstein’s previous 16 Alex Cooper crime thrillers, but there are some serious new twists in this one.
For one, she and NYPD detective Mike Chapman have finally, finally, hooked up after a decade of circling each other romantically, to the everlasting frustration of the series’ readers. I mean, you can understand it. Alex “Coop” Cooper is a product of America’s loftiest schools and a trust-funder, albeit one who picked a job with lots of dangerous heavy lifting. Mike is an Irish-American guy from the boroughs, the son of a hero cop. Mike graduated from Fordham University, but he’s a New York street kid and a cop at heart. Both characteristics are crucial elements for the “Devil’s Bridge” plot line.
The series is reality-based in an improbable way, plus it’s set in New York City, an endlessly fascinating place, which adds to the allure. Ms. Fairstein headed the Manhattan district attorney’s sex crime unit for 26 years, and intimately knows her subject matter. Like her protagonist, Ms. Fairstein is also derived from an upscale New York lifestyle but, improbably, chose to hunt the worst of criminal cretins rather than, say, host charity lunches.
Ms. Fairstein always sets her Alex Cooper novels in a specific Manhattan locale and weaves it into the plot, providing historical background along the way. In “Terminal City,” her novel prior to “Devil’s Bridge,” Ms. Fairstein treats readers to an insane trip to community life under the Grand Central Terminal. It’s just nuts; you can’t make this stuff up. In “Devil’s Bridge,” Ms. Fairstein focuses her attention on the Hudson River, including historic Liberty Island and the George Washington Bridge.
The book’s title has an Island connection as well. The Devil’s Bridge also refers to a series of underwater rock reefs off Aquinnah (formerly known as Gay Head) that has claimed many hulls and lives, most notably the City of Columbus wreck in 1884, drowning more than 100 crew and passengers.
In Ms. Fairstein’s latest thriller, Mike Chapman is reminded of the unrecognized danger of the Devil’s Bridge as he frantically attempts to sort out the late-night abduction of his lover and colleague off an uptown Manhattan street, leaving him, for the first time in the series, to be the main narrator.
Mike’s search takes him to Manhattan’s East Side waterfront, specifically to the site of the Revolutionary War Fort Washington, which huddles under the massive George Washington Bridge.
Now Alex has made a host of enemies in her work, including the ever-endearing Raymond Tanner, a rapist and killer whom Alex had put away. Mr. Tanner found time in his busy prison life to ink “KILL COOP” on his hand to remind him of his life goal.
Mr. Tanner had been on the loose after escaping a psych facility, but he’s been put back behind bars after attempting another attack, this time in Central Park. The trail for Alex’s abductor leads to a perp whose girlfriend has gotten into the DA’s database. It’s a dead end, but does give us another look at Alex’s boss, DA Paul Battaglia, and his fondness for re-election, along with a vaguely familiar personality/preacher who also runs a thriving and very illegal business.
Mike hits paydirt when he comes across the trail of the Westies, a real and renowned gang of killers for hire who formerly resided in the West Side Manhattan neighborhood known as Hell’s Kitchen. The Westies had their heyday in the second half of the 20th century. Mostly of Irish heritage, the Westies reportedly were go-to guys for Mafia-ordained killings. So they were busy.
But you can’t stop progress, and the real estate people got their hooks into Hell’s Kitchen: Urbanization included a name change to Clinton because Hell’s Kitchen sounded, well, icky to folks paying a couple mil for a tenement. (Today, ironically, the name Hell’s Kitchen has cachet, so they’re changing the name back, but the Westie remnants, alas, have relocated to Woodside, Queens.)
Mike eventually figures out the connection, and he’s off and running. Mike, as his sidekick and fellow detective Mercer Wallace notes, has never been much for rules and regs, and this one is personal. He’s off the rails. Terrific stuff.
As you know, we don’t reveal endings here, but there will be another Alex Cooper book. It’s interesting to me to see that the plot lines, tone, and dialogue in the Alex Cooper series have become grittier, and we learn more in each book about how real life works in Gotham.