Despite the title of Linda Fairstein’s newest book, “Blood Oath,” it is not full of gruesome blood and gore, although the title does have significance to the detective thriller. To say more would be a plot spoiler, and you wouldn’t want anything to detract from the complex unfolding of the story.
We track Fairstein’s main character, special victims prosecutor Alexandra Cooper of Manhattan’s sex crimes unit, through the unwinding of two plots. Cooper is back in top form after solving the murder of her boss, the legendary district attorney of Manhattan, and handed a complex cold-case investigation in which a 24-year-old woman, Lucy Jenner, reports to police that she was sexually assaulted by a prominent public official a decade earlier when she was a witness in a high-profile trial. Cooper faces enormous odds in trying to build a case against the perp, a man she knows well, and at the same time protect Lucy from people who want to silence her. Fairstein sets up an engrossing dynamic, with the young woman not always being a terribly cooperative or reliable client in providing the necessary information for her accusations, which if true, could rock the world in which Cooper works.
The second storyline concerns the mysterious, violent collapse and soon ominous disappearance of Cooper’s colleague and friend, who is secretly removed from her hospital and hidden away in a highly prestigious medical research institute in New York City. Let’s say all is not what it seems in this supposed ivory tower.
“There are double or triple themes in every one of my novels, because that’s how it works in real-life police and prosecutorial cases,” Fairstein says. “It’s way too neat to think that a big-city detective has the luxury of working on just one crime from start to finish. The bad guys are at work 24/7, and when their acts intersect with other sorts of criminal enterprises, Coop and her team have to be agile enough to sort out the connections as well as follow the clues that lead them in different directions. That isn’t fiction … that’s how the system works.”
Fairstein, who has a home on the Island where she spends much of her summer, should know, since she was chief of the sex crimes unit of the district attorney’s office in Manhattan for more than 20 years, and one of the country’s foremost legal experts on sexual assault and domestic violence. The book seems particularly apt set against the backdrop of the “Me Too” movement. However, Fairstein assures me, “In every book I’ve written — and this is the 20th entry in the Alex Cooper series — I draw some aspect of motive or character or plot from something or someone I have encountered in real life. My stories are completely fictional, but I take a kernel of truth and work from that in creating the caper that Alex and her colleagues must solve.”
Asked what the writing process is like for her, Fairstein said that it is different for every author.
“I like to write in the mornings, and especially feel energized by the calm and beauty of the Vineyard when I am at my Chilmark home in spring and summer. I have written most of this series of crime novels in my writing studio on the Vineyard,” Fairstein said. “I like to get up early, have coffee, and get the New York Times at the Chilmark Store, get to work for as many hours as I can do, which is different every day, then go for a swim or a bike ride, and save evenings for socializing with my friends. The next morning, I’m back at my desk.”
It takes a team of three to get to the bottom of the truth in Fairstein’s latest novel. “Coop has had two detectives as her NYPD partners from the beginning of this series. Mike Chapman, now her lover, is the star of the homicide bureau, and knows his way around a murder scene better than anyone on the job,” Fairstein explains her characters. “Mercer Wallace is Coop’s favorite detective in the special victims unit, and his expertise in dealing with survivors of sensitive crimes makes him a natural for working with victims of rape and domestic violence. Alex, Mike, and Mercer have had a great friendship for more than a dozen years, and a wonderful professional relationship as well. They trust each other’s judgment, respect the different traits that make them good at what they do, and cover each other’s backs.”
Fairstein says “Blood Oath” is a crime novel and a mystery. “My primary goal is to entertain my readers and, hopefully, bring new readers to Coop’s world. But also, since I was a prosecutor for 30 years and did the same work that she does, I expect that the readers will learn something about the world of criminal justice. It’s the authenticity of my own prosecutorial work that I think sets this series apart from so many others, and I hope that my readers will be gently informed about that work.”
“Blood Oath,” by Linda Fairstein, Dutton Books, New York.