By Linda Fairstein
400 pages, $28
LInda Fairstein's newest thriller opens with Alexandra Cooper, still in her blood-drenched clothes, sitting dazed in the morgue, reliving the impact of her dead boss' body knocking her onto the stone steps of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Of course, Fairstein will reward her heroine with the happiest of endings, as in the previous 19 or so Cooper mysteries. This time, giving no secrets away, her smart, brave hunk of a boyfriend is saying, "You bet, kid. We can do anything you want."
From the opening bloodshed all the way to Cooper's closing request for a couple of weeks off with her boyfriend Mike, Fairstein increases tension by placing Cooper in jeopardy -- serious and sometimes physically painful jeopardy -- in the unlikeliest of New York City landmarks.
Gunshots at the posh art gala take the district attorney out of the picture; children laugh on the rides at the Central Park Zoo; a gruesome find at the Bronx Zoo gives clever Mike a chance to save the day. How many readers have heard of an old-train graveyard, acres and acres of rusting coaches sitting on miles of idle track? Fairstein has researched such an actual place, down to details such as when lights there are on or off. She also tells us who benefits from such urban decay.
Fairstein also shares her insider knowledge about criminal poaching of wild animals in Asia and Africa and how it ties in with drug trafficking in this country. A worldwide crime dynasty has connections with game preserves in the United States, where wealthy hunters pay thousands of dollars to compete for specific prey.
The author has seen real-life evil in many disguises during her decades as chief of the sex crimes unit of the district attorney's office in Manhattan. Even before she retired, her easygoing appearances as a legal expert on various television programs were a far cry from the lawsuits accusing her of mistreating suspects.
Alexandra Cooper embodies the stamina and determination Fairstein needed as a prosecutor. In "Deadfall," Cooper is only beginning to recover from having been kidnapped in a previous novel. Pursuing sex criminals all day, every day, not being much of a way to develop a sunny disposition, nevertheless does wonders for fine-tuning one's malarkey detector. As a matter of personal taste, her tough-guy dialogue feeds my inner film noir fan, and it does ring true: some people do talk that way.
With sickening revelations about the animal trade and drug smuggling in the foreground, the familiar rivalry between local police and the FBI chugs along, and internal politics in the district attorney's office seems as relentless as ever. Infighting among board members of the most humane-appearing groups takes its toll.
What also rings true is the unalloyed brutality of poachers who kill, or sometimes mutilate and leave to die, animals supposedly protected by law and international compacts.
Even after so many novels, Fairstein has maintained her ingenuity in building high suspense, softening the evil at work in her plots with nuggets of historic and current fact. A debutante party during the 1920s and the mechanics of an aerial ride at the zoo trigger little-known savvy that Fairstein is only too happy to share with her readers. But the know-how goes beyond just interesting "stuff." It moves the plot forward. Everything has a purpose for Fairstein.
Beyond the suspense and the politics "Deadfall" shows us parts of today's world that we might prefer to look away from, but Fairstein keeps reader interest at a high enough pitch that we confront these new abominations and the need to end t
Stephanie Shapiro is a former News reporter and editor.