Today, Hartford Books Examiner reviews Death Angel (Dutton, $26.95) by Linda Fairstein.
To be published tomorrow, Death Angel is the fifteenth novel to feature Assistant District Attorney Alexandra (“Alex”) Cooper, who is arguably the author’s fictitious alter-ego, given that Fairstein was chief of the Sex Crimes Unit of the DA’s office in Manhattan for more than twenty years. Known as the nation’s foremost legal expert on sexual assault and domestic violence, Fairstein lives in Manhattan and on Martha’s Vineyard – both of which serve as prominent locales in her New York Times bestselling series.
As the book opens, Alex Cooper has just arrived on scene at New York City’s Central Park, where the naked body of a young woman has been discovered in a lake, the apparent victim of foul play. Alex and her trusty colleagues, Detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace, understand the pressure to resolve this case given the very public nature of the dumping grounds, but must first determine whether the victim is part of an isolated incident or the latest in a string of girls and women who have gone missing throughout the years but whose remains have never been found. When another female is attacked in the park, it becomes apparent that the city’s vast sanctuary, with its winding trails and ample hiding spots, has become a predator’s hunting grounds.
Further complicating matters is the fact that one of Mike’s former lovers has developed a personal vendetta that threatens to destroy both his and Alex’s professional reputations. Though the two have enjoyed a flirtatious and feisty friendship, they have never crossed the line into romantic dalliances – but might they, now that their peers seem to have accepted the rumors as truth? It’s a fascinating hook, and one that adds an extra layer of intrigue to the customary murder and mayhem. These personal and professional stressors also provide a great vehicle for character conflict and development, and Fairstein gets maximum mileage out of them, upping the ante for their continued adventures.
Of course, where Fairstein truly shines is in her depiction of sex-related crimes and the methods and motives of their perpetrators as well as the emotional and physical aftermath of victims; she deftly instills her expertise on the reader without ever losing sight of the underlying humanity. (Fairstein also includes timely elements of procedure, such as the development of FST, or Forensic Statistical Tool, which allows for the analysis of DNA mixtures to determine the probability that said mixture includes a defendant’s profile.) The other highlight here is her depiction of Central Park and its fascinating yet largely unknown history, which is every bit as engrossing as the book’s mysteries. That’s a hard trick to pull off, and yet Fairstein does so with ease, melding the park into her narrative with all the immediacy of a living, breathing character.
Death Angel is a real page-turner that not only illustrates Linda Fairstein’s absolute command of her subject matter but also her undeniable prowess as a storyteller. Longtime fans will delight in the evolution of her characters, who remain fresh yet fallible, while newcomers will fall under the spell of a tautly plotted caper that can be enjoyed as a standalone but that will tempt them to go back and discover the rich tapestry from which this tale was woven. Again, no easy task, but that’s why Fairstein has long been considered in a class all her own…
With thanks to the Penguin Group for providing a review copy of Death Angel.