Long-running cop-thriller series often contend with the problem of predictability and become kind of shopworn after multiple iterations. We get to know the recurring characters and the general plotlines. Then, the element of suspense, the lifeblood of the genre, suffers.
Linda Fairstein has avoided the problem with a character that keeps her Alexandra Cooper series fresh. She uses the endlessly mysterious and fascinating city of New York as a character in her now 19-book series.
“Deadfall” is her latest effort in the continuing saga of assistant district attorney Alexandra Cooper, head of the sex crimes unit for New York City. We do have the recurring cast of characters, including NYPD detective and longtime colleague Mike Chapman, who became Ms. Cooper’s boyfriend about 15 books into the series.
Then there is Mercer Wallace, another NYPD detective. And there used to be a recurring character in DA Paul Battaglia, Alex’s boss and sometime nemesis. Mr. Battaglia, sadly, took two in the hat on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art one night, falling dead into the arms of Ms. Cooper, one of several references to the book’s title.
Obviously, Mr. B. will never return, but his death does serve as the major plotline for this thriller. And we’re off on the hunt to find out who and why someone wanted him dead. The plot thickens as we find out that someone wants Alex dead as well.
At this point, Ms. Fairstein’s most fascinating character, New York City, becomes a major player in the form of the Bronx Zoo. As we’ve mentioned before, Ms. Fairstein involves NYC landmarks in her books. We’ve been introduced to the underground beneath Grand Central Station, Gracie Mansion, the Statue of Liberty, and the New York Public Library, among others.
She sleuths out the real and often unknown history of the locations in which her plots and protagonists are enmeshed and provides those details as her stories unfold. In “Deadfall,” the Bronx Zoo, the best zoo I’ve ever seen, becomes a player in this one because of its residents.
Mr. Battaglia was honored as a conservationist by the zoo a few years earlier, and Alex’s search for clues into his passing brings her there after she learns that he was also a member of an elite hunting club dedicated to hunting endangered and difficult-to-find animals.
Turns out the hunting part was a ruse he used to investigate a shadowy, illicit industry that sold heroin and coveted animal body parts here and abroad. We learn that poaching for ivory and the bones of tigers and other endangered animals, regarded as a health tonic in some cultures, is not the work of local entrepreneurs in small villages in Africa. Instead, the local poachers are part of a well-organized global enterprise.
Alex’s search takes twists and turns into the history of gangs in Chinatown, big game hunting in Montana, and a behind-the-scenes look at the zoo. As always, there’s a reference to our Island, where Ms. Fairstein, a constant visitor, has a home.
Best-selling crime novelist Lee Child (the Jack Reacher series) describes Ms. Fairstein as “the Queen of intelligent suspense” in the liner notes to “Deadfall,” and that’s a good summary. One reason is that she was an assistant district attorney prosecuting sex crimes in New York City for almost 25 years.
Ms. Fairstein doesn’t have to research the criminal legal process because she knows how it works and how it doesn’t work. That’s a bonus for readers with experience in New York, because you get to guess which public figures might have provided inspiration for the characters who parade through her pages.
More recently, Ms. Fairstein has expanded her sleuthing to the young adult genre, creating Devlin Quick, a tween investigator who debuted last summer in “Into the Lion’s Den,” which incorporates, you guessed it, a Manhattan landmark in the form of the New York Public Library.
We hope that Alex Cooper and Devlin Quick will coexist happily in Ms. Fairstein’s future work.
“Deadfall,” a hardcover novel in 382 pages by Linda Fairstein. Copyright 2017 by Fairstein Enterprises LLC. From Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Random House, NYC. ($28 at Bunch of Grapes bookstore, Vineyard Haven, and online.)