Monday, May 23, 2016

Lethal Legacy by Linda Fairstein

It's been awhile since I've read one of Linda Fairstein's crime fiction series featuring Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cooper and  her pals Detectives Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace. A reference to another book set in the New York Public Library led me to wonder if Fairstein had ever written one with that setting, and much to my delight, I found that not only had she, but I actually had one sitting unread on my shelf!

Fairstein, who was the head of the sex crimes unit for the Manhattan district attorney, made good use of her experience working with victims of sexual assault in her earliest books, educating readers on victims' rights in a variety of ways. That said, her real strengths as a crime writer lay elsewhere, I think. It was a few books along that she hit on her winning strategy of setting her crimes in the actual buildings, monuments and institutions of New York, and I believe the real reason I've kept reading along is for her terrific research into places we may have heard of--though sometimes not--but never knew that much about. The iconic New York Public Library was an obvious choice for her to get around to at some point.

Alex Cooper's life outside the world of crime may seem to be a little too good to be true, except that judging from the evidence it's modeled to some extent on Fairstein's own life, in which she was married to a prestigious Manhattan attorney and has a home in Martha's Vineyard just as her protagonist does. It always strikes me a little odd, then, that her descriptions of this rarified world are often are the flattest parts of her books. For me at least, it's very hard to care about her latest romantic involvement with the Frenchman Luc something or other, and as he has a very small role in this long book, perhaps Fairstein found it a little hard to care about him too.

The passionate heart of the books always lie with the trio of Coop, Chapman and Mercer, and with Mike Chapman in particular. In Chapman I think Fairstein really created a character that leaps off the page. He is a salty, often obnoxious, and definitely not politically correct sort of guy, but his sterling qualities cannot be hidden by his banter. Unlike her old and good friends outside the law, whose virtues are frequently articulated by Alex, she doesn't have to tell us about Mike's virtues, because we feel them. The connection between Mike and Alex feels real and contains elements of attraction, and he expresses his admiration for her by frequently mocking her, which she never mistakes as malice. Nor do we.

This book contains much lore about the library, as well as the world of rare book collectors and the equally covetous world of map aficionados. It perhaps goes on a little too long, particularly if you don't care about any of that stuff. And perhaps you shouldn't read Fairstein if you can't warm to a story that provides a lot of factoids for their own sake. For me, though, and for a lot of other people apparently, given her bestseller status, her gimmick really works. 

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