Thursday, March 12, 2009

In Print : Legacy of suspense (Linda Fairstein)

From The Martha's Vineyards Times --

In Print : Legacy of suspense --

By Cynthia Riggs --
Published: March 12, 2009 --

"Lethal Legacy," by Linda Fairstein, Doubleday, New York, 2009, 372 pp., $26. --

First, a disclaimer: I will probably not be entirely objective in my review of Linda Fairstein's latest book, "Lethal Legacy," her 11th and best yet in the Alexandra Cooper series. I am a great fan of Ms. Fairstein, a mystery writer who summers in Chilmark, and who served as head of the sex crimes unit of the Manhattan District Attorney's office from 1976 until 2002. The only book of hers I have not read is her non-fiction work, "Sexual Violence: Our War Against Rape," but I suspect I'd find that every bit as compelling as her fiction.

Like most of the Alexandra Cooper books, "Lethal Legacy" involves one of New York City's landmark buildings, in this case the New York Public Library. The book takes us, even those who know New York well, into places only an insider can view. We explore the library from the attic to its spooky underground storage stacks beneath Bryant Park, where there are - "Books. Eighty-eight miles of books."

Along the way we learn enticing snippets of library history. An apartment was built in the library in 1908 for the building's engineer, who lived there with his family for many years. We also learn a great deal about ancient maps and the preservation of valuable books.

"Lethal Legacy" makes clear how the New York City Sex Crimes Unit must employ an extraordinary amount of tenderness, understanding, diplomacy, and strength in dealing with victims and families during an investigation.

While the setting is rich, the characters are even richer. Homicide detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace call upon Alex, who is Assistant District Attorney in charge of the DA's Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit, whenever a sex crime is committed. Chapman, halfway in love with Alex, is an expert on military history, foul mouthed, outspoken, rough, and utterly dependable when it comes to Alex's safety. He is a character so real, I expect to meet him in person one of these days. Wallace, an equally dependable defender of Alex, is the peacemaker, a quiet, handsome family man. The three make an engaging team. The two detectives rely on Alex's knowledge in dealing with traumatized victims, and Alex steps back from their homicide investigations. She is thrown into some terrifying situations, but we never really worry - Mike and Mercer will show up in time to rescue her.

In "Lethal Legacy" Alex is summoned to an apartment house on Manhattan's Upper East Side where a neighbor is convinced that a young woman has been assaulted. The young woman, a conservator of rare books and maps, refuses to cooperate. This begins the absorbing tale of murder, forgeries, stolen books, ancient maps, family rivalries, blackmail, and vast amounts of money.

"Lethal Legacy" is not a quick read. There is a lot of information to absorb. At times, Ms. Fairstein seems to move away from the compelling plot by giving us so much detail on ancient books and maps, but read on. She knows what she's doing, and the pieces all fit smoothly together without a wasted word.

During the three decades Ms. Fairstein was with the DA's office, she prosecuted several high-profile cases. She left the DA's office in 2002 and continues to write, lecture, and consult.

I lost one full night's sleep by reading "Lethal Legacy." As the dawn chorus tuned up outside, and the sun rose, I closed the book, fully satisfied.

West Tisbury resident Cynthia Riggs is the author of nine mystery novels whose capers are all set on the Vineyard. Her latest book, "Death and Honesty," will be released this spring.

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