For New Yorkers and tourists alike, Central Park is a revelation – 840 acres, 1.137 square miles of green surrounded by the ultimate urban landscape of high rises and roadways. From morning until night, the park teems with activity. Bikers, runners, skateborders, rollerbladers, pedicabs, and horse drawn carriages flood the roadways. On warm days, the Great Lawn is filled with sunbathers and families with children. There’s competition on the ball fields and basketball courts. The band shell holds concerts and the Delacorte Theater hosts Shakespeare in the Park.
Presiding over this urban mecca is the Bethesda Fountain’s Angel of the Waters, an eight foot tall winged female figure in bronze with four cherubs at her feet representing Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace. Linda Fairstein finds a darker side of this iconic statute in her new mystery, Death Angel. When a young woman’s body is found washed up on the lake shore near the fountain’s terrace, Alexandra Cooper, a prosecutor in the district attorney’s office dealing with sexual crimes, is called to the scene, along with police officers Mike Chapman and Mercer Wallace. Their investigation will take them into the dark areas of Central Park unknown to the casual visitor but all too real to the homeless who find refuge in the park and often are targeted for violence.
Even longtime New Yorkers who feel they truly know the park will find Fairstein’s discoveries fascinating. The two forces behind the park’s design, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux (rhymes with “hawks”), were not without their critics. Before the park could be constructed, the land had to be cleared and that meant razing Seneca Village inhabited by the poor, African Americans and Irish immigrants. Fairstein skillfully weaves the area’s history and destruction into the plot of her mystery.
Everything in the park is man made, including the lakes, waterfalls, and caves. Yes, there are caves in Central Park and, if we are to believe Fairstein’s narrative, some even have stone benches inside. Other caves, she tells us, were filled in to avoid having these crevices become places where the homeless could stay and sometimes be harmed.
The novel’s action spills outside of the park to the Dakota, one of the most famous, some might say infamous, buildings in New York. Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, where Mia Farrow gave birth to the devil’s spawn, happened within the walls of the Dakota, and John Lennon was shot by a crazed fan outside the apartment house’s gate. In Death Angel, Alex, Mike, and Mercer connect the death in the park to what happened within the Dakota decades before. An aging heiress slipping into dementia and protected by an overbearing assistant, may hold the key to solving the murder. But Alex will have to use all her resources, physical and emotional, to get to the truth.
Fairstein has penned more than a dozen Alex Cooper mysteries and loyal fans have waited, some less patiently than others, for Alex to realize that Mike Chapman is madly in love with her. In Death Angel Alex finally gets the message. A few kisses are exchanged but as often happens (sigh!) events intervene. Will Fairstein’s next book finally have the two declare their love over pasta and wine at Primola? We will just have to wait.