By Linda Fairstein, © 2006
Scribner; 399 pp
Linda Fairstein, former chief prosecutor in the Sex Crimes Unit of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, has racked up an impressive list of mystery novels in her Alexandra Cooper series. She is also author of a highly-respected non-fiction book entitled Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape. The woman knows whereof she writes in either métier.
Relying on her own, real-life experiences, Fairstein has created an alter-ego (the aforementioned Alex Cooper). Along with her sidekicks, detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, Cooper works to solve all sorts of crimes set in New York City. The series gives a good look into the politics and inner workings of the city’s justice system.
Death Dance offers an insider’s view of New York’s dance and theatre worlds. When world-famous ballerina Natalya Galinova disappears during a performance at the Metropolitan Opera House, it doesn’t take Alex and her detectives long to find Galinova’s body splattered at the bottom of a 30-foot pit where the air conditioning fans operate.
Although married to a Brit, Galinova has had many lovers, including Joe Berg, the current one. He is an over-the-top sleaze ball, a little man who owns several legitimate theatres in the city. The plot thickens as Cooper & Co. delve into Berg’s life and business, and what ensues is a murderous romp and lively read.
Fairstein slips into quasi-noir dialogue for one of her main characters, the detective Mike Chapman, who refers to Alex Cooper as “Blondie,” and says things like: “Me and the loo ...” in reference to his police lieutenant. Her ear for New Yorkese is well-developed.
Fairstein at times seems most eager to educate the reader. She digresses often on the history and esoterica of various New York locations and traditions. At times, these bits of information serve to move the plot along (for instance, her revelations concerning the history of City Center in this book), but at others, they can lead to lengthy and barely-relevant asides. For those of us who love New York, such bits of city lore are an added lure. For those who don’t, the local color can stray into something that feels like an over-long art history lecture.
Fairstein’s workmanlike writing serves her chosen genre well, but don’t look for great literature in this series. It is what it is: fun and easy to read.
By Patricia Cornwell, © 2005
G.P. Putnam’s Sons – 406 pp
This latest in Patricia Cornwell’s Dr. Kay Scarpetta mysteries is a rather odd combination of the things that have made her books best sellers (techno-savvy, vivid descriptions, intriguing characters), and what seems like the dismantling thereof, at least in the case of the characters. Fun and easy to read this book is not.
All the usual cast is on hand: Scarpetta, her niece, Lucy, Detective Pete Marino, and profiler Benton Wesley, Kay’s lover. There are, of course, new villains, and villainous they are, but it is the relationships between the original cast that have changed and somehow soured. The old school team seems destined for sad times. It is as if they barely have the energy to pursue this latest task.
As usual, graphic forensic details are part of the story, but Predator also veers into a long and distressingly sadistic description of one victim’s torture and imprisonment. Horror is one thing; uber-horror is another.
The story itself seems oddly fractured, and while Cornwell does eventually connect the dots and resolve the questions, I’m not sure it’s worth the painful wait. The story involves mass murderers, the criminally insane, and a deeply disturbed split personality. The tale crawls along without any of Cornwell’s earlier mitigating instances of positive interaction between her leading characters. Their relationships have become deeply stressed, and there’s not much resolution offered by the end of this grim book. Somehow, they all seem simply tired.
For Cornwell fans, I fear Predator will be a disappointment.
Julia Sneden is a writer, reviewer, teacher, wife, mother, grandmother and care-giver. She lives in North Carolina. jbsneden can be reached by email (at) triad.rr.com