Linda Fairstein’s mysteries also serve as tour guides into some of New York’s storied landmarks. In Lethal Legacy, her eleventh, we go behind the scenes at the New York Public Library, one of the most magnificent and, we are soon to learn, mysterious buildings in the city. Fairstein takes us into the library’s interiors, places beyond the glorious reading room, where few people are allowed access. We see the rooms through the eyes of her main character, Alex Cooper, and along the way also learn about rare books and rarefied society, the segment that contributes large amounts to keep up buildings like the public library.
Fairstein’s mysteries succeed for many reasons. Her experience prosecuting cases as head of the New York District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit has given her grist for her writer’s mill. (See Robin Weaver’s interview with Fairstein on our front page). Her plots feel real because bits and pieces have been “ripped from the headlines.” Readers cannot help but wonder how much of the fiction they are reading is really fact, based on one of the multitude of situations Fairstein saw as an assistant D.A.
Plot alone, no matter how compelling, makes up only part of the appeal of these mysteries, however. Fairstein’s characters, beginning with her alter ego, Alex Cooper, are people we want to spend time with. The police detective Cooper works with almost exclusively, Mike Chapman, bears a torch for Cooper, and even though she obviously has a great deal of affection for him, she seeks love elsewhere. Oftentimes these love affairs end badly. When she is in need of peace and solitude, she retreats to her house on Martha’s Vineyard, the island she loves almost as much as her home base of Manhattan. In between solving crimes with Chapman, there are get togethers at a favorite restaurant, Primola (also Fairstein’s favorite place to dine), as well as the nightly competition guessing the final answer on Jeopardy. (Chapman, a military history buff, often wins).
In Lethal Legacy the plot is sprinkled with a missing woman, a murdered woman, a rare edition of Alice in Wonderland, and one of the world’s oldest maps. Would someone kill for this priceless treasure? Lives have been lost for less and it’s up to Alex to untangle the mystery, along with the complicated relationships in the wealthy Hunt family, in order to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice.
Margaret Truman, another noted mystery writer who died in 2008, set her books in various Washington D.C. landmarks, everything from the Watergate to the Pentagon to the Library of Congress. Fairstein, too, is on a roll, finding unlimited possibilities in New York as backdrops for her stories. Her 12th mystery, Hell Gate, will be set in Gracie Mansion. And we bet Fairstein’s Cooper will uncover facts about this historic building that even Mayor Michael Bloomberg will find surprising.