After 20 years and 18 sleuthers featuring NYC Assistant D.A. Alexandra Cooper, Linda Fairstein is still keeping it fresh. That’s not an easy task in real life, and it can be a particular struggle for serial novelists.
Ms. Fairstein has the benefit of basing her character on her own life. Alexandra Cooper was head of the sex crime unit for the New York district attorney, a job the often controversial Ms. Fairstein held for 26 years before becoming a novelist and an advocate against sexual violence toward women.
She has also crafted Manhattan as a central character in the New York Times best-selling Alex Cooper series. New York City is an endlessly fascinating, tense, and quixotic place, capable of either destroying or uplifting human life. What more can you ask of a character?
With a prosecutor’s eye for detail, Ms. Fairstein has taken us through Alex Cooper’s eyes to the asocial communities living under Grand Central Station, to secret entrances to Gracie Mansion, and to the city’s grand hotels and churches and bridges, providing texture to readers, teaching even those familiar with the city.
And Ms. Cooper’s tastes, an admirable blend, add panache to her character. As an uptown trust-funder, she can have the pick of the rich uptown litter, but prefers NYPD Detective Mike Chapman, a boy from the boroughs who worked days in uniform and nights at Fordham to get his gold shield. She can also afford to drink the Macallan, but prefers Dewar’s.
As we join Alex in “Killer Look,” she prefers all the Dewars she can get. She’s holed up in her tasty summer home in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard in winter, with a nasty case of PTSD contracted from her abduction and kidnapping by retro Hell’s Kitchen gunsels in her last caper (“The Devil’s Bridge,” Dutton, 2015).
She’s on leave from the D.A.’s office, and Mike Chapman is spending a few days on the Island delivering tough love and tenderness to get her off the sauce and on her feet. Mike’s called back to the city to investigate the murder of a purported fashion model found floating in the East River, and Alex is left alone. The Island in winter, Chilmark included, can get on your nerves, and since Alex is already working on her last nerve, she’s on the last plane of the day heading for New York.
Before you can say “Coco Chanel,” a second death pops up. This time it’s Wolf Savage, a worldwide star in fashion design, dead by “suicide” a week before his showcase event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art during Fashion Week, a.k.a. Ground Zero to the rag business.
And we’re off on a whodunit and a tutorial on one of the wackiest businesses there is. “Smoke and mirrors” is the term used to describe the shmata biz, and it’s true, I can assure you from a long-ago and bizarre journalistic endeavor. For example, we learn that Polo and Chaps creator, the timeless Ralph Lauren, is actually Ralph Lifshitz, born in the Bronx to immigrant parents.
Now, Ms. Fairstein isn’t picking on Ralph. In real life, he is a nice fellow and a well-balanced businessman, probably why he’s worth skatey-eight billion today. Most designers are not nice or balanced or very good at business. It really is smoke and mirrors.
The twice-yearly Fashion Week events become a logistical nightmare as fashion houses cull the line, set up the runway show, handle coked-up models, and court out-of-town buyers. You get to see those scenes in “Killer Look.”
So before you can shout “Calvin Klein,” Alex is in the middle of investigating the suicide now proven to be murder. She’s still on leave, so her activities are sub rosa, and, well, it’s not even her case.
But her longtime buds, boyfriend Mike Chapman and investigator Mercer Wallace, while excellent cops, know bupkis about fashion, while Alex is a savant and actually owns some pieces of WolfWear, the dead man’s upscale line.
It turns out that Mr. Savage (né Velvel Savitski) had created both a fashion icon and a financial nightmare. WolfWear is on the ropes, and the sharks, in the form of an Asian trading company, are circling the brand. The fashion business is full of stories like this, high flyers after the spring show, running from Chapter XI before the fall line came out.
While Alex is tracking down clues, including a sliver of a button at the crime scene, we learn a) that Seventh Avenue was built on the backs of slaves who made military uniforms for the Civil War, and b) that while garment manufacturing left for low-wage climes decades ago, Manhattan still hosts a myriad of eclectic specialty businesses that make or stock only one product — buttons, bows, eyelets, etc. — the trimmings that design houses use in constructing their sample designs.
Turns out that Wolf was also good at begetting offspring, and two more kids, including the East River floater, turn up to join the family partners, the Asian bottom feeders, and WolfWear employees to offer a full array of potential suspects.
We adjourn to the Met for the final unraveling, though not without drama that leaves us gripping the edge of the runway.
“Killer Look” will be available at Island book retailers July 26.